Building rural villages Hereford's good place for new zoning, but protecting character is key.

April 02, 1997

BALTIMORE COUNTY PLANNERS were merely using common sense when they made the hamlet of Hereford a planned "rural village center." Hereford is located at a crossroads; it already has a smattering of small businesses, a post office and library. It is a logical place for new rural development, as opposed to cornfields next to somebody's dairy farm. The challenging question is: What do we want modern rural village centers to be?

In Baltimore County, the term "rural village center" connotes more than it actually means. Right now, village center zoning simply allows more intense commercial development. It does not deal with the most important part of a village -- homes. Some are looking to village zoning to prevent sprawl from encroaching on fields and farms; it certainly will help. Still, it is residential, not commercial, sprawl that's eating up land and straining services.

This residential growth should be channeled into new rural village centers at sensible locations, or essentially annexed into existing hamlets in a way that is compatible with what's already there. Some local governments are starting to move in this direction. Anne Arundel's new General Development Plan, for example, calls for a system to transfer development rights from rural areas to village centers. Baltimore County's village concept will impede sprawl only minimally until officials find a way to include residential development.

Work needs to be done on the commercial angle, too. Consensus about how much and what kind of new office and retail space is appropriate for places like Hereford is lacking. There's conflict between builders who feel the county's square-footage requirements are too strict and who do not want to be constrained by architectural recommendations, and planners and residents who rightly believe new buildings should fit the context of the town.

Compromise should not be that hard considering that Hereford's existing architecture is not of unusual type or quality. All that's really needed is appropriate scale, style, location -- and knowing when enough is enough. So far the county has designated two rural village centers, Hereford and Jacksonville. Better to plan a few more and keep them small than let these two mushroom. If that happens, they won't be villages, nor rural, anymore.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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