CERTAIN ELEVATION STYLES are non grata in the suburbs northwest of Baltimore, and lawmakers are preparing to show developers what qualifies as acceptable architecture. In August, the Baltimore County Council passed legislation authorizing the county's Office of Planning to create a pattern book that will serve as a visual reference for home builders in certain neighborhoods.

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, originator of the “residential performance standards” bill, wants to put the kibosh on what he calls “the McMansion with a brick front and three vinyl sides.” The pattern book will not introduce new regulations, he says, but rather will enforce existing standards in a more “user-friendly” fashion. Those include a preference for elevations that play down the garage, as well as a contentious provision requiring that exterior cladding such as brick or stone cover all sides of a home.

Representatives of Maryland's HBA challenged the cladding restriction last year by preparing a visual survey of elevations that successfully mix materials such as fiber cement, natural and manufactured stone, brick, stucco, and vinyl. “Certain combinations ... can look good and still honor the local vernacular when they are handled tastefully,” says HBA policy director Tom Ballentine.

While similar ordinances in other markets have sparked accusations of exclusionary zoning—insofar as four-sided brick or stone increases construction costs and prices certain buyers out of the market—Kamenetz dismisses this as a concern, as the pattern book guidelines will apply only to homes on minimum two-acre lots in the county's most affluent neighborhoods, where average sales prices already top $1 million.

“I want to ensure that what we do build is of the highest quality and of lasting memory for the community,” he says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Baltimore, MD.