After weeks of delay and bickering, the Baltimore County Council unanimously approved last night a long-debated proposal that will create one of the county's largest planned communities on 3,000 acres in the Honeygo area near White Marsh.
Officials hope the plan will result in affordable, high-quality, innovative developments that will attract and keep young families who are now moving to Harford and Carroll counties and southern Pennsylvania instead of to Baltimore County.
That's why at least 60 percent of the homes in Honeygo will be single-family, detached houses, and not the condominiums, apartments and townhouses that have often served as entry-level housing for families who then move.
A key element is a reduction in zoning density that will allow 5,600 homes on the Honeygo land instead of the 11,000 homes allowed when the current zoning was enacted in 1985.
County officials hope the reduced density will make the land less expensive and keep housing prices affordable.
Perry Hall Democrat Vincent J. Gardina, who sponsored the measure, said it will replace "uncontrolled development of haphazard design" with "quality development with town squares and special design features."
It also will regulate housing designs and materials to make Honeygo a drawing card, he said.
Catonsville Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, a 1st District Republican, and long a foe of suburban sprawl, praised the plan for "moving away from growth at any cost."
She commended the plan for banning "back-to-back" townhouses, a space and money-saving design that pushes two blocks of rowhouses together at the back, leaving front yards but no backyard space.
The Honeygo proposal gets its name from Honeygo Run, a stream that runs along the southern border of the area on its way to Bird River. The planned community stretches from Gunpowder Falls in the north to Honeygo Run and Chapel Road in the south, and from Old Philadelphia Road in the east to Belair Road on the west.
Most of the area consists of farms and woodland, with scattered clusters of older neighborhoods.
Hoping to spare Honeygo the kind of congestion that has enveloped Perry Hall and strained schools, roads and other services, county officials got community groups, landowners and builders to agree two years ago to a voluntary, 24-month moratorium on development there until the community plan could be approved.
Hayden administration officials had been eager to get the final proposal through the County Council because that moratorium expired last month.
The council postponed a scheduled vote on the plan June 20 after the introduction of 30-last minute "technical" amendments angered several members.
At the same meeting, however, the council enacted legislation imposing an immediate building moratorium on Honeygo, preventing rogue developers from starting projects that could endanger the Honeygo plan before the county can finish the details. County Executive Roger B. Hayden quickly signed the bill into law.
The moratorium will remain in effect until the Honeygo plan is implemented, which will give the planning board time to recommend specific zoning reductions and give the council time to vote on them -- probably in the fall.
The vote last night gave approval to two specific resolutions. One makes the Honeygo proposal part of the county's Master Plan; the other instructs the planning board to begin a comprehensive rezoning of the area.
The proposal covers more than 2.5 square miles and provides 9 acres of land for retail stores, 37 acres for parks and 35 acres for schools, recreation centers and other public uses.
Community groups generally have been happy with the proposal, but developers have been less enthusiastic about the reduced opportunities for building, and many current landowners are angry because they believe the lower density will reduce the value of their property.
Although the Honeygo proposal nearly halves the number of houses allowed under the current law, Mrs. Manley insisted on an amendment calling for older neighborhoods to get preference in county capital improvement spending, rather than newer developments such as Honeygo.
After two weeks of arguing over her amendment, the seven-member council approved it unanimously last night, an acknowledgment that she had the four votes needed to pass it.