Beating the sprawl to Honeygo

December 16, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Aided by a two-year building moratorium on the 3,000-acre Honeygo area northeast of White Marsh, Baltimore County planners think that for once, they're ahead of suburban sprawl.

While the land is mostly empty -- no roads or sewers have yet been installed -- planners are looking at their last chance to create a high-quality community before the area is overwhelmed by piecemeal development.

"This is the last area we've got to do something special," said Andrea Van Arsdale, a senior county planning official.

Their proposals -- unveiled for public comment last week -- envision town squares, a Columbia-style commercial village center within walking distance of apartments and condominiums, public open spaces, a mix of townhouses and detached homes in the same neighborhoods and a less-visible presence for automobiles.

They're hoping to improve on the design of Owings Mills, the county's best example of a planned community.

The Honeygo land stretches from Belair Road north of Chapel Road to the Gunpowder Falls stream, and then south again along Interstate 95 and Philadelphia Road to Honeygo Run.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5th, who represents the area, had originally backed County Executive Roger B. Hayden's proposal for a mandatory three-year building moratorium to give county planners a chance to work on a scheme for the area.

But now he says he's satisfied that the voluntary two-year ban, which expires in June, has worked -- "If we can get everything needed into place."

That includes council approval of zoning changes, design covenants and a planned community.

Ms. Van Arsdale and deputy county planning director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller said that Kentlands, a new Montgomery County development near Gaithersburg that has the look of an older urban town, was one model. Townhouses and large, detached homes share the same streets there. Even large homes are built close to the street with back garages serviced by alleys. Some garages sport small, second-story apartments.

Working with an advisory committee of landowners, developers and residents since the moratorium took effect June 1, 1992, the county has prepared four Honeygo scenarios. These range from a low-density plan for 4,400 homes to a high-density proposal that would allow 10,550 homes. However, the two more likely plans would allow 7,300 to 9,600 homes.

Dorothy McMann, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association and an advisory committee member, said she's pleased with the direction the county is taking. She personally favors the upscale "executive home" scenario that calls for only 4,400 expensive houses and a new golf course.

"We're trying to do a Columbia," she said, "but we don't have what Mr. Rouse had -- one landowner," she said, referring to James Rouse, former president of the Rouse Co., which created Columbia out of farmland in Howard County 25 years ago.

Mrs. McMann and others have complained for years that the county's original plans for White Marsh as a northeastern growth area burdened them with too much traffic and school crowding before public facilities could be built.

Mr. Keller and Wayne A. Feurborn, the county's growth-area coordinator, said the highest-density scenario basically represents zoning already in place -- and virtually no one is in favor of it.

The other three plans would require lowering zoning density, especially in wetland areas.

All the choices include a central, nine-acre commercial core on land owned by developer Larry Macks, an advisory board member. They all include plans to install sewers, widen four two-lane rural roads to four lanes, and to add a new four-lane Honeygo Boulevard extension from Belair Road to Ebenezer Road.

"I have been very impressed with what they have done," said Mr. Macks, president of Macks and Macks Inc. Although he hasn't studied the four plans in detail, Mr. Macks said, the concept of a quality planned community with his commercially zoned land at the center is a good one.

All the plans include a new elementary school site, but vary in its location and size. The county already owns an 11-acre parcel on Cross Road suitable for a two-story school but could acquire a 25-acre site facing Belair Road. There are already plans to add three modular additions of eight rooms each to Joppa View, Carney and Gunpowder elementary schools in 1996.

Plans for recreation facilities are speculative. They range from a golf course to indoor recreation centers, depending on the final plan and the county's finances. They would incorporate the existing 185-acre Honeygo Park and 210 acres of Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Some infrastructure costs would be shared by developers, but all would be expensive. The Honeygo Boulevard extension alone would cost about $4 million.

County officials want more public comment on their ideas before Jan. 18, to allow time to prepare a final proposal for the planning board. The board will then debate the issue, hold a public hearing and make a final recommendation to the County Council, probably about the time the moratorium expires in June.

Whatever is finally approved will take years to build, mainly because the county has no money now for the roadways, sewers, schools and recreation facilities that will be needed. The sewers are at least five years away, the planners said.

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