Preservation of rural land gets a boost Planning board calls for stricter zoning in Baltimore County

Goal is to shield watersheds

Changes to ease congestion in older suburbs also backed

June 07, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Despite objections from Baltimore County's farmers, the county planning board recommended yesterday tougher zoning on more than 11,000 acres in the rural north county to preserve the county's dwindling farmland.

The 15-member board also endorsed major changes in zoning to relieve congestion and blight in several older suburban neighborhoods around the Baltimore Beltway, moves that had been sought by community leaders.

The board's actions, part of the quadrennial debate over the fate of Baltimore County's landscape, likely will spark battles when the County Council holds public hearings on the proposed zoning changes in September. Final decisions are to be made by Oct. 8.

Of 483 zoning issues tackled by the planning board, the biggest was the recommended change to reduce the density of housing along county streams that feed into the region's drinking-water reservoirs through farmland.

"This is the largest, most significant change in zoning proposed this year," said Jack Barnhart, who oversaw the rezoning debate for the planning board.

The proposed zoning would allow one house per 50 acres; the current watershed protection zones permit one house every 5 acres.

Phillip A. Worrall, chairman of the planning board, advocated the zoning change, which is fiercely resisted by some of the 900 landowners it would affect and by the Baltimore County Farm Bureau.

"In the long run, this will enhance watershed protection," Worrall said. Down-zoning would not hurt land values and wouldn't seriously affect the supply of housing in the county, he said.

Farmers vehemently disagree, although none showed up to protest at the board's final, largely routine rezoning meeting yesterday.

"It's a property rights issue," Lloyd Reynolds, president of the Farm Bureau, said of the down-zoning. It takes away equity and can reduce land values from thousands of dollars per acre to hundreds, he said.

In older county neighborhoods near the Beltway -- where 88 percent of the people live -- reduced-density zoning is the preferred tool. There, it is used to help preserve the communities rather than to protect undeveloped land.

From peninsulas in the eastern part of the county to Catonsville and Arbutus' vacant lots, community groups and planners are seeking less-dense zoning that would prevent more congestion and encourage construction of single-family, detached homes.

The planning board went along with community groups and county planners in 95 percent of the cases.

In Catonsville, for example, the board refused the South Rolling Road Community Association's request to reduce density on nearly 500 acres along Rolling Road south of Frederick Road.

With support from county planners, civic leaders wanted to reduce density near Catonsville Community College, where residents have complained about traffic and school crowding resulting from the construction of houses.

In another case, the board resisted some of Councilman Vincent J. Gardina's attempts to reduce the number of townhouses and apartments in Honeygo, a 3,000-acre planned community proposed between Belair Road and Interstate 95.

In areas closest to the future Honeygo village center, the board recommended that dense townhouse development be allowed.

"There's been a lot of work done on the plan," county Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III said of the Honeygo project. "We'd like to give it a shot."

The board agreed with a coalition of eastern county community groups and planners who want to scale back development of 653 acres on the Back River Neck peninsula.

"You have to give credit to the community," said Gary Kerns, chief of comprehensive and community planning. "Seven county associations worked together on this," he said, in an effort to prevent apartment and townhouse development from spreading down their crowded peninsula.

In another case in the eastern part of the county, the board recommended less-dense zoning for the the 1,200-unit Riverdale Vil- lage apartments on Eastern Boulevard. If the council agrees and the zoning is changed, any redevelopment of the land would have to consist of single-family, detached homes.

On two other major issues, the board refused to recommend less-restrictive zoning for Hayfields, the controversial proposed golf course community along Interstate 83 north of Shawan Road, or for Colvista, the proposed 3,000-unit Italianate hillside village proposed at York and Phoenix roads by Victor Posner's Security Management Corp.

The 14-month rezoning process has been less acrimonious than in years past, when hundreds of homeowners packed hearing rooms to emotionally oppose proposed developments.

This year, with fewer than half as many issues as in the peak year, 1988, crowds at planning board hearings were smaller, calmer and more respectful, officials said.

"Nobody was booing or screaming," Keller said.

Pub Date: 6/07/96

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