Ever visited the County’s “My Neighborhood” GIS mapping site? There is a wealth of information there about zoning (including current CZMP issues), environmental, civic/ governmental and historical conditions on land throughout the County, but very little information about protected open space within the County’s growth boundary, also known as the Urban Rural Demarcation Line (URDL), shown in the map at right. Councilmen Marks and Quirk have introduced Bill 7-12, which would change all that by creating an overlay zoning district that would be applied to parcels owned by NeighborSpace and by homeowners associations. If there was ever a place where a map showing open space could be needed more than it is here in Baltimore County, I’m stumped to say where that might be. Let me explain.
First, 90% of the County’s 805,000 plus residents live within the URDL on just 1/3 of the County’s total land area. What’s more, most of the neighborhoods there were built before regulations existed to require developers to set aside open space; ergo, there’s very little of it, which is a major reason why there is a land trust like NeighborSpace working to protect it.
Second, open space, particularly where it's contiguous to, or part of, a park, has been shown to provide significant health benefits for nearby residents. What’s more, a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that green spaces have significant economic pay-offs: "The existence of a park within 1,500 feet of a home increased its sale price by between $845 and $2,262. Additionally, as parks increased in size, their impact on property values increased significantly." If you were planning to buy a home within the URDL, wouldn’t you want to know which homes and neighborhoods had contiguous open space?
Third, and building on my second reason for wanting to see this bill pass, is the fact that, with knowledge of the location of homeowners association parcels, NeighborSpace could seek to acquire complementary land and to work to create small parks and gardens where the condition of the land and the will of the local community indicated that such improvement was warranted and sustainable. NeighborSpace has already begun to work with partners on the development of small parks on some of its parcels with the assistance of the Morgan State University Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture, which has volunteered to provide design services for at least one such park per year.