Doing Suburban Development Right

May 12, 1994

It would be ironic, or generous, to use the word "design" in a discussion of the way modern suburbia generally has been laid out.

Madness minus method, American suburban growth of the past half-century has been marked by sprawling ticky-tack housing tracts and copy-cat shopping centers built to accommodate the continual flow of fleeing urbanites. All too often, these booming new communities have gone up without consideration of their inevitable impact on local roads, schools and ecology.

That is why two huge planned developments coming to the Baltimore region -- Honeygo in northeast Baltimore County and Waverly Woods II in northern Howard County -- are so unusual and praiseworthy. Both projects were plotted (yes, "designed") by developers and government officials mindful of their predecessors' miscues. Both are to feature the close-knit, small-town feeling, not unlike Howard's Columbia or the Kentlands in Montgomery County, absent from too many suburban "communities" of recent vintage, And both will be phased in over the next 20 years, mainly to enable the building of infrastructure to keep pace with increasing population.

The Honeygo plan, which calls for 5,556 homes over 2 1/2 miles, nine acres of retail stores and 72 acres for schools, parks and other public uses, is key to Baltimore County's strategy of holding onto the young middle-class families who in recent years have bought their dream homes in neighboring jurisdictions. An important spin-off of meeting this aim would be the retention of existing county businesses and the attraction of new ones.

Just as the Honeygo project is judiciously placed to the northeast of Interstate 95, the 1,000 homes, small shopping center, million square feet of office and commercial space and the public golf course of Waverly Woods II would be well-positioned to the north of I-70. Among the positive results, in both cases, are the focusing of construction on, or near, already developed territory and the convenience for future residents of being close to these major highways.

Honeygo and Waverly Woods II have their detractors -- Howard's no-growth crowd, which is challenging Waverly in court, and Baltimore County landowners who want to develop Honeygo PTC sooner and at greater density. The naysayers aside, the projects appear likely to become not just nice places to live but also outstanding examples of the right way to do suburban development.

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