Deep in the woods a scant mile north of White Marsh Mall is an old, deserted sand pit ringed by scrub pines. Foxholes dot the sides of the long-abandoned quarry.
A strong odor of urine indicates that the den is an active home for a family of foxes.
Two hundred yards and several small ravines away, through thick forest cover, is a level plateau where a developer wants to clear the trees and build 80 residential units -- a mix of townhouses, condominiums and detached houses.
Some residents from nearby Hilltop Acres want the development, Silver Lake, stopped.
They want to preserve the natural state of the area known as Silver Lake, just north of Silver Spring Road.
Community leaders, citing overcrowded schools and traffic congestion, also want a building moratorium proposed for a 3,000-acre area between the two communities expanded to include the whole of White Marsh and Perry Hall.
The Baltimore County Council begins to debate such a moratorium for that rapidly growing area this week.
But one County Council member said that even the limited building moratorium could be in jeopardy.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden has proposed a 3-year moratorium for the area just north and east of Honeygo Park. It was an unusual move by the county in an area that is part of the White Marsh Growth Area -- one of two areas in the county officially designated for large-scale residential development.
Mr. Hayden said the move was necessary because growth had outstripped services such as schools, sewers and roads. The financially strapped county, he said, could not afford to increase those services.
P. David Fields, planning and zoning director, said the 3,000 acres are zoned for 12,000 residential units, which could house 40,000 people.
"With the moratorium, we can study the area more fully and determine how best to phase in development as local services are available," Mr. Fields said.
County officials said the moratorium was in response to community complaints that new construction should be slowed or halted.
Although community leaders welcomed the moratorium, they said it doesn't go far enough.
"It would be even better if it applied to the whole Perry Hall-White Marsh area," said Susan von Lindenberg, an officer in the Perry Hall Improvement Association. "We simply need time to heal from all of the overbuilding out here."
The only current way for a general building moratorium to go into effect is if elementary schools exceed 20 percent over capacity.
Community leaders said Joppa View Elementary, which opened off Silver Spring Road in White Marsh this year, is already 16 percent over capacity. Seven Oaks Elementary, scheduled to open in September in Perry Hall, will open over capacity, school officials said.
Community leaders hope the County Council will extend the moratorium's boundaries.
That, said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5th, who represents the area, is not likely.
"First of all, I only have two confirmed votes in favor of the county executive's legislation," Mr. Gardina said. The council is scheduled to discuss the proposal during a work session tomorrow. Second, Mr. Gardina said, the moratorium proposal came after extensive study by county planning officials, who decided to limit the moratorium boundaries to an area that has yet to have any concrete development plans.
"I think we need to follow that kind of professional recommendation and not try and expand the moratorium to include all of both communities," said Mr. Gardina.
Most of the other tracts of buildable land in the two communities, Mr. Fields said, are small parcels where development is limited to 10 or 15 residential units or areas that have already gone through most of the county's development review process .
Mr. Fields said one of the reasons for the building moratorium in the Honeygo Park area is that "there are no plans yet in the development review pipeline, and we won't have to shut off a developer who has already gone through the pipeline".
The proposed Silver Lake development, just north of Hilltop Acres and south of Honeygo Park, is one of those developments that has gone through the pipeline and was exempted from the moratorium.
That development is among the last to go before the County Review Group, the agency that reviews and approves all county development. The CRG is to conduct a hearing on the Silver Lake development Thursday. A new development review process that is to allow more community input goes into affect the following day.
The CRG has virtually no discretion to block a development if the plan meets all the technical development requirements.
CRG approval also has the assumption of legal right, making successful appeals by community residents very difficult. The new process will give a hearing examiner more flexibility to order changes in a plan or to disapprove it.
"It would be great if the building moratorium could be extended by the council to cover Silver Lake. Otherwise, the best we could hope for through the CRG is to limit the size of the development," said Fran Gustin, a Hilltop Acres resident and one of the leaders in opposing the new development.
"Area schools are overcrowded, our roads are congested and we just have too many houses here and not enough open space between them," said Mrs. Gustin, who is also a teacher at Joppa View Elementary.
The woods not only serve as an open-space buffer, said Mrs. Gustin, but also act as an open-air classroom for residents to study wildlife, such as the foxes of Silver Lake.