From Honeygo to Honey-whoa

Same-old suburb: Plan to create community with traditional feel in Baltimore County was compromised.

July 06, 1999

SEARCHING FOR an alternative to standard suburbia? Interested in a new home in an old-time village setting? Wondering if the gab about Smart Growth will amount to anything?

Don't go looking in Honeygo, the growth area carved from field and forest in northeast Baltimore County. It should be a lovely community when it's done, 4,000 homes in all. But the intent to make Honeygo a cutting-edge suburb has been undercut.

Named for the Honeygo Run that meanders across its 3,000 acres, the growth area was envisioned to have more of a community feel than the typical subdivision. Planners years ago recalled some of the county's older, middle-class neighborhoods -- Dundalk, Rodgers Forge, Rosedale -- to describe their intent for Honeygo.

They imagined commercial village centers within walking distance of apartments and condominiums, town squares and a less visible presence for automobiles with hidden garages and alleys. The hope was that affordable, new homes in a traditional setting would persuade families to stop moving even farther out.

Vowed a county planner in 1983, "This is the last area; we've got to do something special."

Vincent J. Gardina, unfortunately, had other ideas.

He represents the northeastern part of the county on the council and, like any legislator, holds a lot of sway over land-use in his district. A few years ago, he decided the plan for Honeygo included too many townhomes and apartments. He scratched them, dramatically altering the development from including 80 percent multi-family housing to 80 percent detached single-family homes.

Most recently, Mr. Gardina decided the lots had to be wider and all dwellings sided in brick. That will make the homes more expensive -- the average price is up to $270,000. He fought for lower density in Honeygo, he said, because he didn't want it to resemble Owings Mills, which he fears will become "the next ghetto of Baltimore County."

Apparently the broader debate about suburban sprawl that's rung from Washington to Annapolis hasn't reached Mr. Gardina yet, since he wants to introduce legislation to enlarge all building lots in the county. And the hope that Honeygo would help recapture the middle-class housing market keeps fading.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and the County Council, which is to vote tonight on Mr. Gardina's latest proposed changes, failed to protect the vision for Honeygo. They should have wrested the plan from the local councilman's hands long ago.

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