Maryland’s Eastern Shore is likely to gain 160,000 new residents and more than 70,000 new houses in the next 25 years, according to a new report that called for more aggressive actions to manage growth and preserve the region’s historic rural character.
The report, from the nonprofit Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, said that if current trends continue, the new development would remove 215,000 acres of farms and forests from what it called “one of the last great Chesapeake Bay landscapes.”
In contrast, it said that from 1607 to 1907, the first three centuries of settlement, only 60,000 acres were developed. In the last century, another 175,000 acres were developed—a figure that could be surpassed in the next quarter century.
“This report really drives home the runaway development that is facing us over the next 25 years that could irreversibly alter the Eastern Shore landscape that we know and love,” said Rob Etgen, executive director of the conservancy. “Managing the growth that is headed our way is the only way to make sure that the Eastern Shore remains a unique and special place.”
The report, “Growing…going…gone?” provided updates on how six Eastern Shore counties—Caroline, Kent, Cecil, Queen Anne’s, Dorchester and Talbot—had fared in meeting planning and land protection commitments set in a 2002 agreement that was spearheaded by the conservancy.
That agreement called for protecting half of the open space outside designated growth areas by 2010; ensuring agriculture, fisheries and forestry were part of each county’s economic development plan; steering at least half of all new development into locally designated growth areas by 2005; and developing better regional transportation planning that promotes public and alternative transportation among communities.
The report showed mixed results, with the counties being generally successful at steering at least half of new development into growth areas. But the region appeared likely to miss the land protection goal, and little progress was made on the transportation goal. There were uneven efforts among the counties in promoting the traditional cornerstones of the rural economy—farming, fishing and forestry—in economic development plans.
The report highlighted some reasons for optimism. In 2004, Kent led the six counties with 92 percent of its growth occurring in the designated growth area, and Caroline county allocated 2.5 percent of its budget for land preservation. In addition, Cecil County last year rezoned about two-thirds of its 228,000 total acres, which the county estimates will eliminate 24,000 houses from being built on farmland.
Nonetheless, the group set forth an updated agreement to meet the growth challenge. It calls for dedicating 1.5 percent of annual spending to land preservation; guiding 80 percent of new development into growth areas; setting maximum annual growth rates; and opposing the construction of a third Bay Bridge.
“While our elected officials are taking important steps toward managing growth during this critical time, this report illustrates that we need to really step up our efforts to save the Shore’s farms, forests, rivers and vistas,” Etgen said.
When the report was released, all but two counties—Talbot and Dorchester—had signed onto the new goals.
The report noted how a single action, such as constructing the Bay Bridge, can have a massive impact on land use. Between 1900 and the construction of the first Bay Bridge in 1952, the Eastern Shore grew by an average of 300 people a year; now that many new residents arrive every two-and-a-half weeks, the report said. “Another span would bring irreparable changes to the farms, historic communities and rural way of life on the shore,” the report said.
The full report is available at the group’s web site, www.eslc.org.