Unintended consequences

Revitalization: Route 43 intended to spur industrial growth but may instead ignite home-building frenzy.

November 28, 1999

BALTIMORE County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina's proposed 18-moratorium on residential development may be just the device needed for the county to realize its economic development goals on the east side.

Moratoriums generally act like floodgates. While in place, they stop development. Once they end, a torrent of development follows.

Business development has always been the rationale for extending Route 43 beyond White Marsh to Middle River. Now that the road's construction is receiving its final approvals, county officials worry the new thoroughfare may generate a flurry of unintended residential growth.

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has argued that the three-mile road (to be completed in 2005) would be the necessary catalyst for rejuvenating Middle River's depressed industrial fortunes. By giving thousands of acres of long-vacant industrial-zoned land quick access to major transportation routes such as I-95 and Pulaski Highway, this land should become more attractive to businesses.

But good roads also ignite the interest of homebuilders. Even though much of the nearby acreage has residential zoning, the county's development plans have not focused on housing. Much of the current zoning allows for dense residential development. Mr. Gardina would like the area to have higher-cost, less dense development. County planners would like to see a carefully-considered mix of houses.

Given the economy's current robust condition and the lack of a comprehensive plan for the type and amount of new residential development in the Middle River area, a ban on new residential approvals makes sense.

In a year and a half, the economy may slow down and the current pressure for residential development may also subside. By holding off, the county will give itself time to create a sensible plan for residential and business development that enhances -- rather than detracts from -- its east side revitalization efforts.

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