Rural growth potential exceeds forecast 10,000 houses may be built in north, planners now say

March 06, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County planners estimate that 10,000 homes may still be built in the rural northern part of the county -- a number three times greater than planners previously forecast.

The new county figure doesn't surprise north county preservationists, who had estimated that more than 16,000 homes could be built in the area.

Still, 10,000 new homes spread over the north county will drastically change the area's rural character, said John Bernstein, director of the Valleys Planning Council, a coalition of preservationists.

For years, planners, farmers and conservationists have debated how many houses might still be built in the area, while struggling to devise strategies for preserving the remaining land there.

"It's been a very elusive thing," county planning director Arnold F. Pat Keller said yesterday.

Two years ago, the county estimated that 2,900 houses might still be built outside the Urban Rural Demarcation Line, which separates development areas with public water and sewerage from the rural area.

The new estimates were obtained in part by using tax data to show land parcels and homes in the north county. The numbers will be used by a committee studying the rural areas for the county's new master plan.

Planners have found 42,586 parcels outside the demarcation line. Of those, 29,996 are residential parcels. More than 26,000 homes exist outside the line; current zoning allows between 35,000 and 37,000 homes.

Arriving at an exact number is difficult, Keller said. Land rarely can be developed to its maximum zoning density because of slopes, wetlands and other environmental constraints.

At the same time, the county's agricultural protection zoning is more lenient than it would appear. It restricts development to one house per 50 acres, but allows a land owner to build a house on each lot that is one acre or larger. Some parcels consist of more than one lot.

Unless they research each deed, planners say, they will not know how many lots exist.

While it's important to know how many houses may be built, it's more important to control where they are built, said Bernstein. "We're not really trying to control growth, we're trying to reshape it," he said.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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