Baltimore County's restrictive agricultural zoning is what separates it from other counties in the region in controlling sprawl, according to two reports evaluating Smart Growth.
In 1979, the county created a master plan with an urban/rural demarcation line to ensure that the northern two-thirds of the county remained rural. Development above the line is limited to one home per 50 acres, at least twice as restrictive as any other county in the region.
The reports by the Baltimore Regional Partnership and 1000 Friends of Maryland laud the county for its farmland preservation efforts and for pushing growth into established areas such as Owings Mills and White Marsh.
"The county's strict adherence to the urban/rural demarcation line and strong agricultural zoning have made Baltimore County a model for how to keep new growth out of rural areas," said one report. A second study said the county has projected the fewest new homes outside growth areas over the next 20 years. The county expects that 2,743 homes will be built on 6,315 acres, a little more than half the number of the nearest county, Howard.
Baltimore County officials welcomed the report and its marks.
"We've been effective in drawing a line in the sand and sticking to it," said Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
Preservation groups also praised county officials for keeping growth out of rural areas.
"I think the county demonstrated an interest in controlling sprawl long before the term Smart Growth came along," said Jack Dillon, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, a land preservation group.
The reports faulted the county in two areas: transportation and low- and moderate-income housing. Although the county planners argue that Owings Mills and White Marsh are accessible to mass transit, one must drive a car to reach the White Marsh Park & Ride or the Owings Mills Metro station, the reports said.
The reports also said the county does not encourage construction of affordable housing.
One community leader concerned about growth south of the rural preservation line said yesterday that she was surprised to hear that the county received such high marks for growth control.
Ruth Baisden, chairman of the Community Conservation Action Group, has complained about traffic problems and growth issues in those neighborhoods.
"Our concern is that if you direct all the growth into our communities, then you are lessening the quality of life," said Baisden.