The deceptive zoning solution

Density: Experience shows that a livable community requires a variety of housing.

July 25, 2000

HERE'S a telling statistic: Of the more than 600 pending requests in Baltimore County's quadrennial comprehensive rezoning process before the council, more than 70 percent call for down-zoning. Seems like folks from Worthington Valley to Westerlee are bent upon thinning out the residential housing density in the county.

Why? Because rapid growth in communities such as Owings Mills and Reisterstown has produced a litany of problems: traffic congestion, crowded schools, loss of open space and environmental degradation. Community groups believe additional high-density projects will only aggravate conditions.

Politically, the climate has swung against mass clustering of residences in the county's growth areas. Honeygo, originally slated for 11,000 residences, will have fewer than 5,000. Community pressure has reduced the number of houses to be built at the Greenspring quarry from 2,500 to 850.

But lower residential density within the county's urbanized growth areas creates more pressure to build in the open spaces outside the county's urban rural demarcation line.

Although large swaths of farmlands and woods now have easements that prohibit development, there are tens of thousands of acres with zoning that would allow homebuilders to carve them into 1- and 3-acre lots.

As the County Council processes these rezoning requests, learning from successes is every bit as important as learning from failures. The mix of homes, incomes and family sizes in White Marsh and Rodgers Forge, for example, has created diverse, vibrant communities.

Packing people like lemmings into crowded communities is no more acceptable than gobbling up farmland willy-nilly. The council's rezoning plan must seek to balance each concern to create desirable communities.

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