Balto. Co. eyes changes in land use and zoning


The twin problems of luxury tract homes eating away a Baltimore County's rural-residential land and the school crowding created by the new homes have prompted the county to consider possible zoning and land-use changes.

One suggested solution is to allow community water wells and sewerage systems in rural-residential developments, so that homes can be clustered in one smaller portion of a tract.

Another is to reduce the density permitted under the RC-5 zone, the main rural residential zone, which now allows up to one home per .6 of an acre, or three homes per two acres.

Developers like the clustering idea, according to Stephen R. Smith, vice president of Gaylord Brooks Realty Co., which specializes in building new homes in rural areas.

County Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, who is pushing the changes, said the idea is to stop what he terms "glorified sprawl" in which expensive new homes are spread widely over development tracts in semi-rural areas, felling trees and nibbling away at the county's remaining 50,000 acres of RC-5 land.

Full-fledged farmland is already protected by strict zoning standards of one house per 50 acres. But RC-5 land, which is not served by public water and sewers but is often closer to established residential areas and major highways, remains at risk, say Gardina and county Planning Director P. David Fields.

Without the ability to cluster their homes as they may do in denser residential zones with public water and sewer, developers must spread them out, cutting down trees and grading more land, to get lots large enough to support individual wells and septic fields.

These same new developments also typically attract families with children who are crowding rural county schools at a time when money for new facilities is scarce.

Gardina, who represents Essex-White Marsh, and Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, from Catonsville-Patapsco, are co-sponsoring a council resolution asking the planning board to develop recommendations for changes. The County Council would ultimately have to consider making them into law. The resolution will be on the council's agenda tomorrow night.

Gardina said he hopes to complete the process by August, when the next comprehensive county rezoning process is to begin.

At the same time, Gardina has formed a citizens committee to look for ways to strengthen the county's interim school overcrowding law, which prevents new development around schools currently more than 20 percent over capacity. That law is due to expire Jan. 1, 1992.

Fields said his department is also researching provisions for a permanent replacement.

Smith said clustering around community wells is a great idea and is already used in other jurisdictions. He noted that under current practice, developers rarely are able to use the full density allowed by zoning on their land, and must spread their houses to get good wells and septic systems. "We would welcome the opportunity to examine the issue," he said, speaking as a member of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

Fields said the tough part about clustering is that it may allow more homes than current practice, resulting in more school children crowding rural schools and more traffic on rural roads.

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