Driving through the Burtonsville-Fairland area along U.S. 29 at the southern end of the Baltimore-Washington corridor, it's hard to believe this bustling section of Montgomery County has been under some form of growth moratorium for nearly a decade.
New housing subdivisions sweep along the eastern side of Columbia Pike, and several spiffy new shopping centers have popped up in the last few years to accommodate the new residents.
The figures from the Montgomery County Park and Planning Office demonstrate the rapid growth in this area, which is roughly bounded by Howard County to the north, the Capitol Beltway to the south, Northwest Branch to the west and Prince George's County to the east.
There were 15,350 homes in the Burtonsville-Fairland area in 1980; there are more than 27,500 today. Ten years ago, there were 14,210 jobs in the area; today that figure approaches the 32,000 mark, according to development figures from Montgomery County.
Although business and real estate officials along the Baltimore-Washington corridor lament the economic slowdown that has gripped this once-booming area, officials in the Burtonsville-Fairland area say that has nothing to do with their business problems.
"It's not the recession that's stopping anything out there," said Piera Weiss, a planner for Montgomery County. "It's the growth moratorium."
Growth in eastern Montgomery County in the 1980s wildly surpassed the predictions of county planners, who didn't expect to see 27,500 homes in the Fairland area until 2005.
But Tom Faringer, a longtime Burtonsville activist and president of the Stonecrest-Woodcrest Civic Association, complains that despite moratoriums, the county has managed to find ways to allow new homes to be built while not improving the infrastructure.
"We're being given the slip on road projects and schools and a fire station and a library in Fairland," he said. "They are slipping them out on us so, by golly, we shouldn't have to take on any more new homes. This area is not getting the funds it needs."
The explosive growth surprised county planning officials so much that they decided to place a building moratorium on the Burtonsville-Fairland area in 1984 to try and stem the tide. This moratorium followed closely on the heels of a ban on new sewers that was imposed just a few years before.
However, housing figures for the area show that new homes continue to be approved and built along the U.S. 29 corridor, with the help of special "ceiling allocation homes" that allow low- to moderate-price home construction during a moratorium. About 2,000 homes have been sold in the area during the past three years, business officials assert.
Isiah Leggett, an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council who lives in the Burtonsville area, says citizen complaints about the lack of infrastructure funding are "somewhat justified," but he points out that much of the building in recent years was approved before any moratorium was imposed.
"The moratoriums are a stop-gap measure, but we couldn't stop retroactively what had already been approved," he said.
Nevertheless, Mr. Leggett, the president of the council, said that with the help of fellow council member Marilyn Praisner, who represents the Burtonsville-Fairland area, that he believes there is "a good shot" the county will approve renovation of Burtonsville Elementary School and a new library construction contract.
"Given our positions, you really can't rule it out even given the serious budget crunch we're under right now," he said.
Mr. Faringer and other civic activists say the perversity of the situation in Burtonsville-Fairland is that because the area is under a building moratorium, there is a misconception that school and road overcrowding can't be as bad as it once was.
But a drive along main roads in this area or a visit to local schools or the local library, they say, will vividly demonstrate just how strapped facilities and infrastructure are in the Fairland area.
A $6.2 million renovation and addition at Burtonsville Elementary School has already been deferred by the county twice, and County Executive Neal Potter has called for another delay this year.
The county has planned for years to widen U.S. 29 in an effort to ease congestion at its intersection with Sandy Spring Road. But the current budget crunch has disrupted proposed timetables.
Michael Enright is a Baltimore free-lance writer.