Andrea Van Arsdale, Director, Baltimore County Department of Planning
Have you ever ventured out past the Beltway and begun to notice office buildings, retail centers, and residential communities giving way to agricultural fields, pastures, and wooded stream valleys? These areas are not just beautiful scenery and they didn’t stay green by accident. The open fields and forested areas protect the tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, shield the waterways from suburban runoff, and provide habitat for wildlife pressured by development.
You may wonder, how have these areas have managed to remain rural? Since 1967, Baltimore County has been protecting its agricultural and environmental resources through responsible and sustainable land use policies and regulations. As a result, we have a legacy of sustainable growth and remain a national leader in this movement.
Last year, the Maryland legislature passed Senate Bill 236, introducing similar land use strategies statewide. SB236 calls for all jurisdictions to classify their land according to four distinct growth tiers that define levels of residential development. Under the direction of County Executive Kamenetz, the Planning Department solicited input from a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Building upon that information and following the implementation guidelines from the State, the Planning Department established and mapped our four growth tiers. Within the County’s rural areas, the growth tiers set the number of houses served by individual septic systems. This serves to further prevent suburban sprawl and to encourage investment in the County’s established neighborhoods and older Beltway communities – the essence of smart growth.
Baltimore County’s Growth Tiers received highly favorable recognition from the Maryland Department of Planning and 1000 Friends of Maryland. We were proud to be one of the first in the state to submit our growth tiers map, especially since it was approved with no changes by the state. The County’s strong land use policies and regulations will help ensure the preservation of our agricultural heritage and the future health of the Chesapeake Bay.