Residents defend North County’s rural character

By Melanie Yanney, March 15, 2011

Northern Baltimore County residents play a vital role in land preservation and resource conservation where the county’s master plan falls short.

During the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council meeting Feb. 9, members gathered at Sparks Elementary School to discuss community interests from repairing aged bridges to preserving clean waterways.

Nedda Evans, the council’s corresponding secretary, educated the group about phosphorous pollution in area reservoirs.

“Phosphorous comes from fertilizers, farms, and septic systems,” she said. “Our water isn’t safe to drink if it wasn’t treated with chemicals.”

One solution for preserving clean drinking water is to purchase the land around the watersheds to better control for pollutants.

“New York and Boston have had success, but we can’t afford to buy the forested land around our watersheds,” Evans said.

Illegal dumping of furniture and construction waste is another source of waterway pollution.

Educating the public about the dangers of dumping does not have to be an impossible feat, said George Rew, the council’s vice president.

“Sixty percent of trash comes from 30 percent of people,” he said. “You don’t have to convince 100 percent of people, just 30 percent to make a difference.”

The Gunpowder River in North County, Md.

The Gunpowder River flows through North County, Md. Organizations like the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council work to educate the public about the dangers of illegal dumping into the waterway.

Lynne Jones, a Parkton resident and an environmentalist, cited “unsustainable development” as the most significant contention in North County.

“Developers are not looking long term,” she said. “Environmentalists, who are concerned about urban sprawl, septic systems, rainwater run-off, and oil spills, look to the future.”

North County is one of the few remaining rural areas of northern Baltimore County. It is located along Interstate 83 north of Hunt Valley and encompasses Sparks-Glencoe, Monkton, Parkton, and Freeland. From pasture to watershed, this land is rich in natural resources, which many community groups vow to preserve.

North County residents have formed volunteer organizations and advocacy groups, including the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council, the Freeland Community Association, and the Freeland Legacy Alliance. These organizations hold public meetings to keep community members informed of local issues. The members also attend court hearings for matters impacting the preservation of the rural community.

A major factor affecting the future of North County’s rural character is the county’s master plan.

Master Plan lacks clout

Some North County residents criticize the Baltimore County Council for outlining conservation goals but not enforcing them.

“Unfortunately our master plans do not have the teeth they need in order to make any difference when it comes to developments being built out here,” Jones said.

Baltimore County’s 272-page master plan outlines goals for managing growth, improving the environment, and conserving natural resources. The most recent document was adopted on Nov. 15, 2010, and guides the development of Baltimore County through 2020.

The 10-year plan outlines three primary goals:

  • To continue the success of growth management
  • To improve the built environment
  • To strengthen resource conservation and protection

Joanne Schwarzmann, a Freeland resident who fought the construction of a landfill in her town, said rallying neighbors and community activists is the most productive method of protecting rural North County.

“Rolling up your sleeves and pushing for changes yourself is the only way to go,” she said. “If you wait for the government to realize an issue and react to it in a master plan, you’ve waited too long. The community has to bring issues to government officials and push for change.”

Conservation plans that work

Maryland is known nationwide for its land preservation programs, Jones said.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture cites Maryland as one of the country’s leading states in land preservation.

Baltimore County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire played a key role in protecting rural land areas and preserving historic buildings, she said.

“He had thousands of acres down-zoned in the watershed areas to be protected against future over-development,” Jones said. “[Preservation] is basically our only real governmental tool that works as far as keeping development out.”

Reducing waste through recycling is another method of conserving Baltimore County’s natural resources.

According to the Department of Public Works, recycling is offered to all single-family homes and townhouses in the county. The agency is working toward incorporating all apartments and condominiums into the program.

“When we built our home out here, the county did not have a curbside recycling program in our neighborhood,” Schwarzmann said. “Now they do. It’s a step in the right direction.”

A caution to local government

North County community activists like Jones caution County Council members to be forward thinking as they decide how to focus their legislative efforts.

“Their decisions today to allow a little more development here, a little more development there, are going to affect their own future families,” Jones explained. “Their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren may not have a Christmas tree farm to go out to to cut Christmas trees down. They may not have areas like this any longer to go out to to buy roadside produce or to pick a pumpkin to take home for Halloween. This is a very real problem.”

A farm in North County, Md.Smart zoning and planning protect rural North County

Combining protective zoning laws and land planning leads to successful land and waterway preservation in North County.

The Prettyboy Dam in North County, Md.

Muddled master plan creates rift in community

Baltimore County’s master plan is designed to guide the development of the county. However, there are differing opinions about whether the plan is successful.

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