The making of Honeygo Baltimore County: Guidelines reflect desire to build neo-traditional suburban community.

March 05, 1997

THE LAST THING Baltimore County needs is more mediocre or bad development. So give county officials credit for wanting to make Honeygo, the planned 4,800-home community near White Marsh, a distinctive neighborhood instead of a collection of forgettable subdivisions.

Honeygo is probably Baltimore County's last large undeveloped residential growth area. It will be a magnet for middle- and upper-middle class families who otherwise might move out.

Sensing its importance, the county wants an upscale but mixed-income community that breaks away from the tired, wasteful suburban formula. To achieve that, planners have compiled detailed "neo-traditional" guidelines. Now in the hands of the County Council, they call for a village green, a walkable commercial center, a grid street system to link neighborhoods, ways to reduce the impact of automobiles. Builders are encouraged -- but not required -- to use high-quality materials. Houses must put their good side -- their fronts -- toward the street.

The guidelines have encountered fairly subdued criticism from builders and neo-traditional advocates alike who wonder if the regulations aren't too strict. The concerns are that neo-traditional rules will drive up the cost of development, and that most buyers still desire conventional suburbia.

In fact, neo-traditional developments are selling well nationwide. Despite that, builders generally have proven reluctant to diverge from the suburban recipe. That is why planners felt it necessary to write specific guidelines. The county will learn soon enough if they are too strict. If the guidelines force prices higher than buyers will pay, developers won't build and the county will need to revise them.

We suspect, however, that there are plenty of families interested in living in a community with more room for their kids to play; with places to walk after dinner; with narrower streets that don't accommodate cars barreling through as if they're on a freeway. Also, the Honeygo plan is not inflexible. Narrow setbacks are allowed, not required, and less dense development is planned in certain areas. Those who favor a conventional suburban design have that option. The council will want to make sure each Honeygo guideline is reasonable. It should have no quibble with the overall package.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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