Honeygo community finally on the rise 'This day has been a long time coming,' says Balto. Co. planner

November 04, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

In northeastern Baltimore County, fields once tilled for strawberries and rhubarb are being turned for a new purpose and a new town. More than two decades in the making, repeatedly delayed by conflict and debate, the planned community of Honeygo is beginning to rise and offer an answer to suburban sprawl.

Within weeks, models for $200,000-and-up homes are to be built at Perry Hall Farms, where 25 homes have been pre-sold, according to the developer.

More housing and a commercial town center -- key elements in the blueprint for a neo-traditional village -- are also poised to move forward. But with the first houses about to be built in the heart of Honeygo, a community that will have 10,000 to 12,000 residents, a milestone is at hand.

Says Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III, county planning director, who has seen much of the squabbling and false starts hampering the ambitious project: "This day has been a long time coming."

The story behind Honeygo is one of grand ideas and bedeviling details, of acrimony and compromise. It is a tale of business and politics, of a neighborhood that has reluctantly accepted growth as inevitable.

Still, obstacles and loose ends remain. Perry Hall Farms developer Edward A. Personette, in need of an off-site easement for a drain pipe, was trying last week to complete a real estate deal -- with an early, vocal opponent of his project, no less. The County Council is still working to clarify the plan's requirements for schools, roads and other facilities.

The germ of the Honeygo idea can be traced to the mid-1960s, when Baltimore County officials began to consider funneling development to designated "growth areas," says Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who represents the area. About a decade later, two areas were chosen: Owings Mills in the northwest county and White Marsh in the northeast.

The White Marsh zone included 3,000 acres on the outskirts of Perry Hall, where a 1960s-era wave of suburban development gives way to the farmland and woodlands hugging the valley of the Gunpowder Falls.

In the mid-1980s, the county outlined plans for highways and sewer lines in the area, and developers snapped up hundreds of acres.

But initial plans drew fiery opposition from neighbors, who complained that the initial White Marsh building boom had left their roads clogged and their schools crowded. By 1992, builders fearful of a government-imposed moratorium agreed to a voluntary, two-year building ban.

Two years later, the County Council approved the Honeygo plan, hoping a high-quality development would keep young families from moving to Harford and Carroll counties and southern Pennsylvania.

The plan included the county's first -- and thus far only -- attempt to link the rate of development to "adequate facilities" such as roads and schools.

Still, Gardina tinkered. His zoning changes reduced the number of homes to 4,800 -- less than half the nearly 12,000 originally proposed. He pushed design guidelines to promote an upscale development with a small-town feel.

County criticized

Ray Giudice, a Towson developer involved in plans for Honeygo since the beginning, said the project has languished.

"The county really blew this thing," Giudice said. "The politicians were feeling the burden and the heat from their constituents, and they dragged things out. The truth of the matter is, it probably should have started to have been developed in 1990."

Gardina's response: "If the county would have moved forward quickly prior to 1990, we would have been stuck with 12,000 pieces of junk out there."

Development within the Honeygo growth zone has begun, but (( only on Route 7. Interstate 95 separates it from the heart of Honeygo: the rural acres along Cross Road, between Chapel and Forge roads.

There, families had long worked the land as truck farmers, and passed on lots for the younger generations to build homes.

Moses L. Gwynn Jr., who has lived on Forge Road since 1923, recalls dappled horses pulling plows at the farm across the street, where the new houses are about to be built. He recalls the day in January when the old farmhouse was knocked to the ground.

"I sat on the porch and cried," he said.

Frances Kahl, who lives across the street from the development, has learned to accept the change.

"You can't get angry because you can't do anything about it," she said. "If you lived out in the country all your life, how would you feel about it?"

Edward Watts, who also lives across the street from Perry Hall Farms, was an early opponent who may now play a bit part in the project. Developer Personette wants to buy a slice of Watts' property to bury a drainage pipe.

If Watts balks, the developer would have to turn to a neighboring landowner -- and perhaps rely on the county to condemn a portion of that property, says Phil Martin, a county projects engineer.

Failing to obtain an easement quickly might be costly to Personette because it could delay part of his project, Martin adds.

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