Smart growth meets hard choices Rouse's Harford mall: Project merits full review, despite being outside growth envelope.

February 06, 1997

ON A GOLF COURSE in southeastern Harford County, sandwiched by two creeks and overlooking a stream of cars on Interstate 95, the governor's Smart Growth meets Hard Choices.

The Rouse Co. has proposed building an 800,000-square-foot mall there, off Route 543 near an area called Riverside. If it were the brainstorm of a less reputable developer, officials might be more inclined to dismiss it out of hand. It is targeted just beyond the county's "development envelope," where Harford has channeled much building during the past decade. That philosophy has been in keeping with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "smart growth" concept, which seeks to encourage development in traditional population centers instead of sprawling farther into farm country.

Harford County has turned a cold shoulder to mall concepts before; one shot down several years ago helped usher in a County Council more skeptical of development.

But this project is different, and merits a full hearing. While it would fall outside the existing growth envelope, it would be situated at an interchange of a major interstate. This is not far-flung countryside. It is, in fact, an area the county views as having potential for "high value" development.

Second, this is Rouse, a Maryland company with a national reputation for quality projects in suburbs and cities alike. County Executive Eileen Rehrmann is not ready to summarily dismiss the maker of Baltimore's Harborplace and Columbia, especially when the $100 million project could become one of the county's largest employers, bringing 1,500 jobs. Ms. Rehrmann has long been worried about Harford's lack of a corporate gateway -- its new jobs have largely come in warehousing and retail. Perhaps this project can include or spawn a corporate campus to create more office jobs.

Key for the county to remember is that it is in the driver's seat. This is not a distribution center project sought competitively by Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Rouse is wooing Harford for the fertile consumer market there and in neighboring Cecil County. If this project is to happen, and it won't before 2001 at the earliest, the county will need to examine it in context with its comprehensive rezoning to maintain a strong grip on growth.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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