New census data reveal major changes in the demographics of the Woodlawn-Liberty Road area. Population in those convenient beltway area neighborhoods decreased by 8 percent between 1970 and 1990, even though Baltimore County's overall population increased by 12 percent. Meanwhile, the area's racial make-up kept changing. While neighborhoods are still integrated, 66 percent of the population now is black.
With spanking new housing sprouting up in nearby Owings Mills, where quality shopping is plentiful, county officials are becoming concerned that the Liberty Road communities might lose their attractiveness. To make sure that depopulation and racial change will not lead to blight, high vacancy rates and instability, the county Office of Planning and Zoning is proposing that a community conservation district be created for neighborhoods stretching from the city line to the beltway, bounded by Milford Mill Road and the Metro rail line in the north and by I-70 in the south.
To prevent what happened in the city's Howard Park from being repeated along Liberty Road, county authorities are proposing that any property owner wanting to convert a single-family home HTC into three or more units must go through a public hearing before the zoning commissioner. Even if increased density is approved, the outside entrance and appearance of the converted property could not be altered.
The plan also proposes that all new residential development must maintain the existing character of the surrounding community. As for commercial development, food and drug stores, bakeries, dry cleaners and day-care centers would be among preferred uses, while no increase would be permitted in the number of used-car dealers and service stations, liquor stores or billboards.
The plan would require that all vacant commercial buildings must be well maintained. If they have large show windows, owners would be required to put up window displays to reduce the visual impact of the vacant buildings.
We support the planning office's strict enforcement approach in the Woodlawn-Liberty Road area. As the plan now is about to start its journey through an approval process by various agencies, we urge the Planning Board and the County Council not to water it down. The prolonged recent fight over an unwanted striptease club that was forced upon the Liberty Road area should be a warning of what can happen if the regulations are ambiguous and strictest enforcement is not practiced.
The Woodlawn-Liberty Road communities offer convenience and a good housing stock at affordable prices. Their vitality must be protected.