Middle River plan would allow additional houses

Community leaders concerned about crowding

August 29, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

The Baltimore County Council is considering a plan that would allow more homes to be built in Middle River than currently allowed, even as community leaders express concerns about crowded roads and schools.

The eastern community has 5,000 homes, and 2,000 more units are planned.

County officials say the community is primed for more growth, particularly with the construction of White Marsh Boulevard. Industrial parks are planned for many properties along that street, and building homes nearby would allow employees of future businesses to live close to their workplaces, county officials say.

They also expect the area to be on the list of places to live for new employees of Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is expanding as part of a nationwide consolidation of military bases.

Officials have proposed zoning changes that would allow 320 more homes to be built in Middle River than current rules permit. The recommendations are part of the Middle River Community Plan, which is scheduled for a County Council vote Tuesday.

County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, whose district includes the area, said yesterday that he plans to introduce an amendment that would retain the current zoning for much of the land.

Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III, the county's planning director, said the need to use land as wisely as possible guided his office in coming up with the recommendation.

"What it really boiled down to in the end was trying to balance a blend of fitting in with existing communities and then providing realistic densities to meet our housing needs," he said.

Under the plan, industrial projects would be concentrated along White Marsh Boulevard between Windlass Run and Eastern Avenue. To provide housing for employees of the new businesses, new neighborhoods should be built near White Marsh and Campbell boulevards, according to the plan.

The most contentious recommendations involve changing the zoning of nearly 300 acres from a low-density "RC" zoning class to one that would allow up to two homes per acre.

In its recommendations to the council, the Planning Board notes that community leaders who advised the board on the plan believe that "the proposed zoning will ultimately put too much stress on the current proposed infrastructure," including crowded schools and roads, and will lead to a shortage of parkland in the area.

Randy Cogar, a Middle River resident and former Planning Board member who worked on the plan, said he understands the desire of many residents to halt growth. But he said banning new homes is not reasonable in a fast-growing region.

The question for him, he said, was how to ensure high-quality housing. He said the answer is imposing reasonable density limits to ensure that homes would be built on larger lots instead of townhouses that could become rentals.

Bartenfelder said after a council work session yesterday that he will introduce an amendment to keep almost 300 acres that have been proposed for zoning changes in their current zoning classes.

In the face of some community opposition to the changes, he said, it makes more sense to keep the status quo.

"If those people who own property in that area want a zoning change, they can bring it in and go through that process," said Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, referring to the county's wholesale, once-every-four-years rezoning process, which starts next week.

He said he would support an amended version of the plan, noting that it also addresses issues including a call for walking and bicycle paths. It also recommends requirements for open land around houses and that the county not issue construction permits until a number of capital projects are complete.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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