Forest Cover And Development Buildout Evaluation For The Owings Mills Growth Area, Gwynns Falls Watershed (presentation)


Research was conducted by the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management regarding an analysis of the forest cover changes in the Owings Mills Growth Area of the Gwynns Falls watershed. Completed in March, 1999, this study was conducted under contract to the Parks and People Foundation, Inc. in support of the Revitalizing Baltimore Project, a cooperative effort of the USDA Forest Service, state and local agencies, watershed associations, and non-profit organizations for the management of watershed resources and healthy communities.

This research addressed three questions about the development of Baltimore County's Owings Mills Growth Area in relation to the forest and riparian resources of the area:

1. How much of the Owings Mills Growth Area has already been developed? How much was forested prior to development of the area and how much forest cover has been lost?
2. What has been the effect of County development regulations for stream buffers and forest conservation in retaining forests in the Growth Area?
3. How much additional forest is likely to be retained and lost as the remaining areas of the Owings Mills Growth Area are developed?

Approximately 40% of the 13,285-acre Growth Area designated in the 1984 Plan for Owings Mills was already developed at the time of Plan approval, and another 10% was committed to public or private open space. The remaining 50% was designated for future development. An area of approximately 7,300 acres was selected for study where the most intensive development has occurred since the adoption of the 1984 Plan. The Study Area for this research included primarily the Red Run and Horsehead Branch sub-watersheds and includes:
  • 671 acres (8.9 %) of transportation rights-of-way (I-795 and Metro facilities),
  • 326 acres (4.3 %) of publicly-owned land (designated park sites),
  • 2,527 acres (33.5 %) of existing development (generally developed prior to 1984),
  • 2,071 acres (27.4 %) of recent development (projects approved since 1984), and
  • 1,952.9 acres (25.9 %) of undeveloped areas zoned for future development.

The primary findings from the study included:

1. The Study Area contains the largest area of forest cover in the County portion of the Gwynns Falls watershed. However, in 1974, prior to development of the Growth Area, forest cover represented only 32.2% of the Study Area. The development of Owings Mills has therefore occurred primarily on former agricultural land. Owings Mills was designated to receive development that otherwise would have impacted agricultural and reservoir watersheds.

2. Net forest cover loss from 1974 to 1996 was only moderate for the Study Area. In 1974 the Study Area contained 2,429 acres of forest. The 1996 forest cover was approximately 1,592 acres, representing a net loss of 837 acres of forest, or 35% of the pre-Growth Area forest cover. Some forest cover loss was due to the construction of major State transportation facilities for the Growth Area, including I-795 and the Metro station and parking facilities.

3. A GIS map initiated by DEPRM in 1996 was updated that shows the environmental features protected as a result of the County's development regulations. This task involved digitizing information from approved Final Development Plans (FDP's), including non-tidal wetlands, 100 year floodplains, streams, steep slopes, stormwater management facilities, forest buffers, and forest conservation easements. The County's development regulations have protected 467 acres or 23% of the 2,000 acres of recent development projects submitted for approval.

4. The Study Area includes approximately 2,000 additional acres of undeveloped land that is zoned for development. It is estimated that future forest cover loss will be significantly less for the remaining areas of the Growth Area than for more recent development because of the existence of extensive floodplains and other protected areas. A conservative estimate of the forest loss of vacant parcels, excluding their floodplains, indicates that at least 350 acres (52%) of the 670 acres of forest would have to be retained without mitigation under the minimum requirements of the County's Forest Conservation Act. Additional forest is also likely to be retained through implementation of the County's forest buffer regulations. Forest cover associated with the approximately 550 acres of floodplains should be retained to a great extent. All together, the net forest cover loss for this last 2,000 acres of Growth Area development should be far less per gross acre than the 35% net forest cover lost through the 2,000 acres of recently-approved development. It is not unreasonable to project that as much as 75% of the remaining forest cover will be retained for the remaining development areas.

The development of the Owings Mills Growth Area has important implications for balancing growth management and resource protection responsibilities of local government. The original 1984 Plan for Owings Mills envisioned that the forested streams of the Red Run area would provide important benefits by defining and separating neighborhood clusters. Today, multi-storied condominiums and town houses overlook stream buffers that are typically several hundred feet in width across the tributaries of the Red Run. These corridors are now appreciated for providing other important functions such as protection of air and water quality, maintenance of stream channel stability, and provision of terrestrial and aquatic habitat.

The 9,600 acre Owings Mills Growth Area today has a population of more than 40,000, a resident labor force of 25,000, and total employment of 30,000. An estimated $1.4 billion of Federal, State, and County funding has been invested for infrastructure to support the development of Owings Mills. The growth area has achieved important economic, social, and environmental objectives as a result of the cooperative efforts of citizen organizations, the business community and the development industry, Federal, State and local agencies responsible for capital improvements, and County leadership for growth management and resource protection. The County's commitment to the Plan has transcended political administrations and economic cycles.