Growing in the right places Baltimore County: Rezoning must protect rural areas and older neighborhoods.

June 25, 1996

CAN BALTIMORE COUNTY protect rural areas and older neighborhoods by reducing zoning densities and still leave room for enough growth to keep the county economically sound? The County Council must answer this question as it prepares to vote this fall on 483 rezoning requests.

There is no question that the zoning in the rural north should be made as restrictive as possible to protect reservoir watersheds, to preserve open space and because the county cannot afford to extend sewer and water there. Both the county planning board, which is a panel of citizens, and Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's planning staff have recommended downzoning 12,000 acres of agricultural property from one house per five acres to one house per 50. These north-county areas are a precious resource, and the county has long held that they ought to be conserved.

The question of reducing zoning densities in older neighborhoods is stickier. Clearly, downzoning should occur in urban areas where too much apartment and townhouse zoning has spawned instability and decay. But the need for downzoning in places like Glyndon and Catonsville -- picturesque communities concerned about preserving their character by limiting infill development -- is less obvious. If a few homeowners subdivide their yards, will the feel of the neighborhood really change? Perhaps not, especially if the new homes blend in with the old ones.

The trouble is that communities can't control the compatibility of new development. County Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III correctly notes that local governments need to go beyond zoning -- to come up with controls and guidelines that ensure that new development will be practically and aesthetically appropriate. As it is, restrictive zoning is the only way stable, attractive neighborhoods can guarantee that they retain their identity.

That's why council members should follow the administration's lead and reduce densities in these areas. Growth belongs in the growth areas -- White Marsh, Owings Mills, Honeygo. These projects involve thousands of new homes. As slowly as the county is growing, those areas should generate adequate revenue to help meet local needs. The council can afford to put the clamps on development elsewhere.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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