The late 1950s and early 1960s witnessed the virtually untrammeled expansion of residential real estate development in Baltimore County. The best efforts of a professionally- staffed Office of Planning and Zoning were often rendered ineffective by the coordinated actions of developers, some compliant county politicians, and a handful of attorneys .
Grinnell W. Locke, a local architect who resided in the Greenspring Valley, recognized the threat posed by such development to the unique and beautiful agricultural open space, consisting of the floors of the Greenspring, Caves, and Worthington Valleys–which was then squarely in the sights of real estate developers. To protect the valleys, he conceived of a plan which would accommodate growth and limit random extension of public utilities, while preserving existing open space.
He initiated discussions with David Wallace and Ian McHarg of Philadelphia, their firm being acknowledged as the premier large-scale landscape planning firm in the United States. The result of these discussions led to the establishment of the Greenspring and Worthington Valleys Planning Council, Inc.– predecessor of todayâ€™s Valleys Planning Council, Inc–the latter hereinafter being referred to as “Council” or “VPC”.
A committee was established to raise the necessary $125,000 to pay Wallace-McHarg Associates for the development of a comprehensive plan covering the 70 square miles, and roughly 45,000 acres of land represented by the three valley area.
The Plan was presented in 1964 and contained three basic principles:
First, the valleys constituted a precious and unique amenity, whose open space should be preserved.
Second, growth was inevitable and must be accommodated according to a plan.
Third, future residential development was to be directed to the plateau areas between the valleys, with some limited development on the wooded slopes of the hills bordering each valley.
Nationally, the Plan received an award as one of three of the best-conceived large-scale landscape plans in the United States. The necessary funds were raised by a committee headed by the late Herbert A. Wagner. The names of other members of the fundraising committee, as well as of the supporting donors, can be found in early literature printed by what was then a new organization.
An office was opened in Towson, which was staffed by a resident director who established a firm and continuing working relationship with the county Planning Office.
The Councilâ€™s staffed office has continued to exist for 48 years. The entire expense of the operation has been continuously supported by members of the Council, who are residents of the area. The VPC has enjoyed considerable growth in membership as new families have moved into the area. Many of these members contribute an annual amount equivalent to a tenth of their real property taxes–a figure suggested in the Plan. Since the VPC enjoys a charitable designation under the Internal Revenue Code, contributions to it are income tax deductible.
A particular benefit of the Plan was its adoption–virtually in its entirety–by the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning, which itself lacked the manpower to develop an equivalent comprehensive, detailed, and exhaustively researched plan. New zoning designations were adopted and applied in conformance with the Plan. In early years, the planning expertise of Wallace and McHarg was periodically made available to the county Planning Office
The benefits to the county were significant, in that it was spared the expense of haphazardly extending water and sewer lines and building roads to incomprehensively planned areas. A by-product of the Plan was the countyâ€™s decision henceforth to place upon the developer the entire expense of extending water and sewer facilities to an otherwise unserved real estate development. Previously the county had actually encouraged development by undertaking to pay half of the construction expense of these facilities. Another result of cooperation between the VPC Executive Director and the Office of Planning and Zoning was the adoption by the County Council of new zoning designations more favorable to open space retention.
The Plan was consistently supported by the Office of Planning and by a succession of its enlightened directors, whenever variances or special exceptions were applied for. This action proved to be consistently beneficial in each successive four-year planning cycle.
Zoning hearing officials, some of whom had apparently been swayed by political considerations, came to recognize not only the soundness of the Plan, but also the tenacity of the VPC members who staunchly resisted efforts by developers to obtain special exceptions and variances to the Plan. Where necessary, appeals were taken to the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, where the Plan was successfully represented on a number of occasions by the late James Cook, Esq.
After a decade, developers recognized that the Plan and its supporters–both private and governmental–constituted a significant obstacle which was not going away. Thus, they directed their efforts elsewhere. Rezoning of several key tracts of land have been successfully resisted. The tract at the corner of Falls and Greenspring Valley Roads is a case in point, and ultimately became a county park.
From its initial conception 50 years ago to the present, the VPC has been a visionary, effective, relevant, and well-conceived force, which has worked in partnership with agencies of Baltimore County government in achieving its purpose.
Growth has been accommodated, significant expense to government has been avoided, and, most important, the floors of the Valleys continue to remain as open and beautiful as they were in 1960.