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'Honeygo, I shrunk the sprawl'


Baltimore County planners have come up with some intriguing ideas for the development of the northeastern area of the county known as Honeygo. That's a good thing, because pretty soon it wouldn't be Honeygo. It'd be Honey-came and went . . . to Harford County.

One of every seven new homes in the Baltimore metropolitan region over the past five years was built in Harford. More than 32,000 of those homeowners moved from Baltimore County. While this middle-class mushroom cloud fanned out in Harford, Baltimore County to the south was left with the rich, the poor and the elderly. To be sure, all these new families created headaches for Harford, requiring new roads and schools. But they also gave it vitality, and the housing stock made the place more attractive for industry and retailers.

A well-designed Honeygo development zone may be just what Baltimore County needs to help end the outflow of families and businesses. County officials readily acknowledge that they hope can attract young professionals and mid-level managers who might work in the county's eastern industrial corridor -- if and when that gets revitalized.

The fascinating thing about the Honeygo plan -- which would be years in the making -- is its aim to make the suburbs more "livable." Surely, the folks moving to the 'burbs would contend they wouldn't be there if the developments weren't livable. But even suburbanites have to admit it takes more than Chem-Lawn to grow a sense of community. Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann has a task force studying these shortcomings.

There's clearly a niche for Honeygo as a back-to-the-future place that reminds folks of the small towns of a generation ago. Something on the order of Howard County's Columbia or the Williamsburg-like Kentlands development in Montgomery County -- only much lower-priced. If Baltimore County simply creates an east-side companion to Owings Mills, its more posh "growth area" on the northwest side, it loses. Middle-class families will still flee to affordable homes in Harford and Carroll counties and southern Pennsylvania.

The Honeygo plan was the outgrowth of a moratorium Baltimore County officials slapped on home-building in that area last year. Officials realized they couldn't control the sprawl or provide the necessary infrastructure, so they froze construction to buy time to develop a strategy. This could be a good one, if the county focuses on the reasons it has lost middle-class homebuyers of late.


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