At Honeygo, fewer homes, higher prices on horizon

Bigger lots proposed to reduce density

July 01, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

In hopes of improving the appearance of the planned community of Honeygo, the Baltimore County Council is considering a move to limit the size of the development yet again, this time looking to cut 250 to 500 homes from the project.

The proposal would expand the minimum size of lots as a way to limit housing density, reducing the number of homes by 5 percent to 10 percent. It also would add other design restrictions. Those moves, developers and officials say, would help drive up prices in a community where the average price of a single-family home is $270,000.

"The whole intent of Honeygo was a better-quality design," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who represents the area and is sponsoring the bill, which is scheduled for a council vote Tuesday. "If you start off with trying to cram too many houses on the property, it doesn't work."

Situated on 3,000 acres in the Perry Hall-White Marsh Growth Area, Honeygo, because of zoning restrictions, is probably Baltimore County's last chance for a large, planned development.

From the beginning, county officials have sought tough guidelines for the community, making several revisions that limited the number of homes. Honeygo also is subject to the county's most stringent design standards, which not only dictate the kinds of building materials that must be used, but also require parks and landscaping, and ensure that utilities and services keep pace with construction.

With construction of Honeygo's second development beginning, the community is taking on an increasingly upscale look.

Although Honeygo was designed to capture homebuyers seeking affordable houses in Harford and Carroll counties, the average price of a single family home in Honeygo is more than $75,000 higher than that of an average new home in Harford County and nearly $50,000 higher than that of one in Carroll County.

Ellwood Sinsky, a partner in Honeygo's Glenside Farms development, said his houses were to have started at about $170,000. Because of a strong housing market and proposed changes in the regulations that govern Honeygo's development, he and his partners expect to offer bigger homes starting at about $200,000.

"The market has changed by $20,000 to $30,000," he said.

Despite the rising prices and strong demand, Gardina said, he became concerned about the quality of housing in Honeygo after seeing developers proposing projects where the lots were the minimum size allowed.

His bill would extend the minimum lot width for a single-family home from 70 feet to 85 feet, increase the size of the side and rear yards, and require builders to use more brick and stone.

The question of housing density has surrounded Honeygo from the start. Older neighborhoods such as Dundalk and Stoneleigh, and new neo-traditional developments such as Kentlands in Montgomery County provided a model for Honeygo, but county planners didn't want housing in the planned community to be too dense.

The first Honeygo plan reduced the number of houses permitted in the area from 11,000 to 5,556. That number was cut to 4,800 in 1996, after the County Council decided to eliminate some townhouses and apartments.

Although the state's Smart Growth initiative emphasizes curtailing sprawl and reducing land consumption, Gardina argues that creating larger lots at Honeygo meets the spirit of the law. "I still think it is smart growth because it is being concentrated in a growth area," he said.

Mike Watkins, director of town planning for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., which designed Kentlands and pioneered the neo-traditional movement in the United States, said Honeygo was never a neo-traditional development because it lacked the essence of the movement, a mixture of houses, businesses and public buildings within walking distance of each other.

Fusing elements of conventional subdivision design onto neo-traditional won't work either, Watkins said. "If you take the elements of neo-traditional and conventional suburban design, it's like putting parts of a Ford and parts of a Mercedes. They don't work and it won't run," he said.

Honeygo's gradual transformation from a community with mixed housing to one primarily containing single-family homes gives balance to the densely developed areas of White Marsh, said Baltimore County Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller.

County planners are a little disappointed that some neo-traditional features are being lost but say Honeygo's success shows it is meeting the area's housing needs.

"Am I going to wring my hands and gnash my teeth? No. I think if we stick with some of the principles, we're fine," Keller said.

Gardina said Honeygo retains tough design standards that he intends to make even stricter by requiring that 70 percent of a house's facade and all of the front face of the garage be of brick or stone.

Responding to complaints from builders who have had to create new blueprints to meet the guide- lines, Gardina proposes more leniency in rules on the positioning of garages.

Gardina said he is considering another change in the guidelines that would eliminate another neo-traditional feature, houses close to the streets. In a typical development, houses are set back 25 feet from sidewalks. In Honeygo, they are set back 10 feet, and Gardina said that looks crowded.

"The more I look at it, the more I have second thoughts about it," he said.

Perry Hall residents say they approve of the changes even though they would reshape Honeygo's image.

"Generally, we support any changes that reduce the density," said David Marks, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association. "I think there is already a sense the area is getting pretty crowded."

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