Smart Growth's mirror images; Baltimore County: Towson plan makes most of infrastructure; Honeygo achieves the opposite.

THIRTY YEARS from now, Baltimore County residents may look back and shake their heads at recent land-use decisions. While state government, through its Smart Growth policy, is encouraging dense development in areas with public infrastructure, the County Council is reducing residential density of a major growth area.

The council's recent decision to shrink by nearly 11 percent the number of houses permitted in Honeygo, the 3,000-acre planned development in the White Marsh area, encourages sprawl. The decision will help drive up the average price to roughly $270,000 -- at least $50,000 more than in Harford and Carroll counties -- making Honeygo less likely to deter continued migration farther out.

Originally, 11,000 houses were to be built in Honeygo. In 1994, the number was cut to 5,556 and, two years later, to 4,800. A development envisioned mostly for multifamily development has been transformed into mainly single-family homes.

Proponents of the change, led by Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, claim lower density will maintain Honeygo's "quality." However, other county communities -- Rodgers Forge and Idlewylde come to mind -- demonstrate that properly conceived dense development can retain its value.

Ironically, about the same time the council was approving "dumb growth" in Honeygo, a developer was revealing plans that would enhance smart growth in the county seat. A proposed five-story hotel in Towson on the former Hutzler's property would take advantage of existing infrastructure and contribute to a more vibrant Towson after business hours.

In the long run, a hotel in the heart of Towson will contribute more to Baltimore County than high-priced homes in Honeygo.

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