Proposal seeks to prevent blight on Hanover Pike

March 25, 1992|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

On a highway map, it looks pretty simple: Follow the straight line down Route 30 from booming southern Pennsylvania, through Carroll County, into Baltimore County to Reisterstown, on down Interstate 795 to the Beltway or the city.

But Baltimore County Senior Planner Jack Dillon will tell anyone who'll listen that a line on a map doesn't come close to revealing the true character of the state highway known as Hanover Pike.

On a recent afternoon, he drove north on the 7 1/2 -mile stretch from just north of Reisterstown to the Carroll County line, pointing out the roller-coaster hills and dips, the green fields and tiny towns that dot the Hanover Pike's borders. Towns with names like Boring, Arcadia, Woodensburg, Fowblesburg.

The Hanover Pike corridor begins where the roadway narrows to two lanes, and the strip zoning of the more populous areas to the south gradually yields to fields. The ambience of the area won the corridor a scenic route designation in the county's master plan.

But planners, residents and business owners along the route are concerned that the rural character of the area may not survive the ever-increasing flow of traffic on the road, which is a link to the Owings Mills growth area, and the mounting pressure for zoning changes that would increase development.

The signs are everywhere. At the pike's southern end, a pack of cars has formed a de facto park-and-ride lot where the Mass Transit Administration line ends. On the shoulder at the crest of one steep hill, Mr. Dillon stopped and said, "Just watch for a minute and count." Before he finished the sentence, three tractor-trailers rumbled by.

On one northern stretch of the road, traffic increased by 106 percent from 1975 to 1989, county planners said, adding that improvements will be essential by the turn of the century.

The Hanover Pike corridor is still largely prime agricultural land, Mr. Dillon noted. Most of the farmers grow crops such as soybeans, wheat and corn, and there are dairy, beef and horse farms. Western Run is the biggest of several trout-quality streams in the area, and woodlands are scattered throughout.

"The population is sparse -- fewer than 2,000 people in an area of 13,000 acres," Mr. Dillon said. And the land is "environmentally sensitive and agriculturally valuable."

Nonetheless, current zoning regulations would allow another 1,800 homes to be built, and commercially zoned properties dot the corridor. "So," Mr. Dillon added, looking over the land, "you could get a very urban use in the middle of that pasture."

As a 30-year veteran of the planning department, he's seen it happen before: As a route becomes more commercialized, longtime residents seek commercial zoning to increase the value of their land. Then they sell it and move, leaving behind strip-zoned stretches like Liberty, Belair or York roads.

And that's what the group of planners, residents and business owners wants to prevent. After two years of work, they completed the Hanover Pike Corridor Study. It suggests options from simply widening the road, which would bring it right up to the front porches in two small towns, to rerouting Route 30 and making it a scenic parkway with a grassy median strip. Another idea is to create two bypasses to preserve the small towns along the pike.

The plan also recommends changing designations on parcels of land that were haphazardly zoned for commercial use decades ago. But Mr. Dillon sees "commercial rural" zoning as a valuable compromise. It allows some commercial uses of land, but sets controls on such things as size of buildings and signs.

"We're not trying to put anyone out of business, but some businesses wouldn't fit it," he said. "They wouldn't add anything in terms of the rural quality of the area."

And he said he's been working successfully with existing businesses to help them blend better into the landscape.

In addition, several landowners are willing to sell acreage for use as a public golf course southeast of Woodensburg, Mr. Dillon said, and the additional open space could join the county's greenway system.

Mr. Dillon said he'd like to see bus service and perhaps a commuter railway from the end of the MTA line in Reisterstown north into Pennsylvania to help relieve traffic pressure.

He also hopes to see restoration of a ramshackle wooden house at Woodensburg, formerly inhabited by a tollgate keeper. Built in 1859, it was used until 1915, when the pike was a toll road. It is among 26 historic sites along the route.

Most of all, Mr. Dillon wants to keep people on the pike.

"This is a typical problem all across the state and the country," he said. "When a road gets to the point where you don't want to live along it, the commercial development increases, the traffic increases, and you just aggravate the problem. We want to get ahead of that process."

The Hanover Pike Corridor Study and other development issues will be discussed at the Baltimore County Planning Board meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the County Council chamber at the old courthouse in Towson. Those who wish to address the board must register between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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