How to preserve the valleys Baltimore County: Preservationists must become partners with government, developers.

December 05, 1996

HAVING JUST HELPED persuade elected leaders to downzone 9,000 rural acres, Baltimore County preservationists seem to realize that this was just one victory in a continuing struggle. Development pressures in the Worthington and Greenspring valleys and northern agricultural areas won't disappear.

The market for property further from Baltimore's urban core remains hot. There is ample development opportunity, despite the downzoning. More than 20,000 rural acres remain zoned for one house per five acres; even zoning of one house per 50 acres contains loopholes that allow more building than one might expect. Houses could pop up without regard to the impact on farming or the landscape.

How can development be managed so as not to cause practical or aesthetic harm, and still allow landowners to reap the value of their property? Can preservationist groups, instead of merely fighting battles as they arise, work toward consensus over what rural areas should look like in the future? It is reassuring to see the Valleys Planning Council, the county's powerful preservationist group, wasting no time looking for answers, and even seeking advice from such successful land preservation organizations as the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pa., that is responsible for guarding the landscape immortalized in paintings by the Wyeths.

Until now, the Valleys group has employed financial resources and energy to fight mainly from a defensive position. If it wants a pro-active role in determining what development looks like and where it occurs, those assets will be less important than a partnership with county planners and developers.

The Brandywine Conservancy is effective because the government uses it as consultant on planning and zoning, and developers accept its ideas for good design. The council needs to establish similar relationships.

Otherwise, even some of its more traditional ideas -- use of easements, transfer of development rights from rural to growth areas -- may run into trouble. And bolder notions that ought to be considered, such as landscape preservation through restrictions on building location and design or creation of "village" zoning so rural development can take the form of hamlets, will fail.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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