Back-to-the-future suburban planning

September 19, 1995

ALMOST ANY NEW residential development in Carroll County, or most any suburb these days, provokes immediate opposition. This reflexive response is certainly evident in the case of the proposed development of the Phillips property in Union Bridge. While plans for this 350-unit project are in their infancy, the concept plan has already come in for much debate.

As conceived, this proposal adheres to the spirit of Carroll's long-term master plan, which calls for concentrating development in and around the county's municipalities. Union Bridge, which has not seen any significant new residential development in decades, annexed this property and zoned it for residential use.

As plotted by David Thaler and Associates, a Baltimore land-planning firm, this development would be markedly different from the typical suburban subdivision.

Instead of creating a community of wide curving roads and cul-de-sacs, the plan calls for narrow streets to be laid out in a grid. Instead of stamping out cookie-cutter houses on half-acre lots, Mr. Thaler's design calls for mixing a variety of structures, including townhouses, commercial buildings and detached homes. His plan would replicate the visual feel of the existing town of Union Bridge.

If Carroll residents are sincerely interested in preserving open space and protecting farmland, they should support this type of residential development. It is the most effective way to achieve those goals. If the county wants to create communities with a sense of place and character instead of anonymous and homogenized developments, this plan deserves serious attention.

Granted, there may be problems with the plan as it stands. If fully built, the development would double the size of Union Bridge. How well will the old part of town mesh with the new? Will town engineers leave the existing traffic plan in place? Will the county provide the necessary improvements in schools, roads and other public facilities to accommodate the additional population? Sensible answers are needed for all these questions. However, to obtain them, the plans on the table demand a reflective, rather than reflexive, response.

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