Ban on permits for residential construction proposed

Balto. County leaders seek limit for some areas

January 04, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County officials have spent a good deal of time lately trying to beef up rules governing development.

A bill approved last month is designed to ensure that home construction won't overtax neighborhood schools. In the next few weeks, the County Council will vote on a master plan that will guide residential and commercial growth for the next decade.

But those efforts aren't enough for two county councilmen, who fear unchecked development in their districts.

Councilmen Joseph Bartenfelder of Fullerton and Vincent J. Gardina of Perry Hall, both Democrats, are proposing six-month bans on issuing residential building permits in parts of their districts. They want the planning board to draw up stricter guidelines for building materials and design to ensure higher-quality, higher-priced homes.

"What this is aimed at is getting a better handle and control on how things come in," said Bartenfelder. "I heard there is a whole slew of [developers] getting ready to file, and in a fast manner."

Bartenfelder is proposing the creation of the South Perry Hall-White Marsh residential study area. It would be bounded roughly by Interstate 695 to the south, Belair Road to the west, White Marsh Boulevard to the north, Interstate 95 to the east and Perry Hall Boulevard to the northeast.

Gardina wants to form the Middle River-Bird River study area, between U.S. 40 and Eastern Boulevard, east of Wampler Road. The measures are scheduled for a vote Jan. 18.

Growing trend

The proposals typify a growing trend in Baltimore County. Increasingly, councilmen are using the tools available to them -- namely, bills that temporarily halt or limit construction -- to negotiate with developers for what they hope will be better-quality projects.

Gardina has used the technique in the Honeygo area. Council Chairman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, persuaded developers of Greenspring Quarry to trim the number of homes to be built there by using the threat of restrictive legislation.

Past mistakes

It's all part of a reaction to past mistakes. Political leaders have seen what happens when developers wring the most money they can from a hot area: Within a few years, the projects deteriorate and the builders move on.

"People are really getting dissatisfied with the quality of what they are seeing built out there," said Arnold F. Keller III, director of the county Office of Planning. "It seems to me that the council is finally moving into a situation where they are tired about it."

Still, Keller is frustrated with the piecemeal approach to controlling growth that has his staff scrambling.

"If it's good enough for these areas, why isn't it good for the rest of the county?" Keller said. "The people in Catonsville are entitled to just the same protection as the people in Essex. But the council is sort of acting out of a sense of frustration, and I hear them on that. Something has to be done more universally."

Seeking stricter rules

Keller wants to update and add teeth to Baltimore County's design guidelines -- the regulations that spell out, among other things, what types of building materials should be used and how streetscapes should look.

But attorney Rob Hoffman said it would be unfair to make developers he represents wait while new rules are drafted.

"The broad approach is going to take too much time," he said.

Hoffman also worries about drab uniformity as a possible side effect of stricter rules.

"The problem with trying to overlegislate design is the risk that everything is going to look the same," he said. "If everything was brick, that wouldn't necessarily be a good thing."

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