Avant-garde director John Waters found downtown Sykesville so symbolic of quaint, small-town America that he chose it as a backdrop for his 1989 film, "Cry Baby," about rival teen-age cliques.
But venture just beyond the town's borders and one could experience "culture shock" -- the term Sykesville Town Manager James Schumacher uses to describe the contrast between the downtown businesses, homes, parks and streets built about a century ago and the new subdivisions, such as Lexington Run, on the outskirts.
"There should not be such a drastic change, from black to white,"said Schumacher, adding that town officials have tried to promote new development that fits in with the town's character.
The cornerstones of development in Carroll's traditional towns -- clustered housing on small lots, nearby business districts, unique architectural styles and buildings hovering a few strides from narrow roads -- have become extinct, replaced by more modern suburban patterns.
But it's not too late to turn back the clock, says Westminster land planner and design consultant Chris Batten, who has proposed creating "heritagedevelopment zones" adjacent to Carroll towns. Batten addressed about60 county and municipal officials who gathered at the Town/County Partnership Conference Saturday to plan for Carroll's rapid growth.
Such zones would replicate, to the extent possible, development patterns and architecture in the older sections of the eight municipalities. Special guidelines, differing from established subdivision regulations, could be implemented in the zones to allow such features as narrower streets, alleys, architectural standards, clustered housing on smaller lots and mixed land uses, said Batten.
Zones would be designated in areas where annexation and development is planned.
"I think the market is there," said Batten. "I hope something starts to happen on it."
Schumacher said he strongly supports the concept, saying it would help "bond the community much more, politically and in other ways."
County Assistant Planning Director K. Marlene Conaway said the proposal must be researched and discussed with Carroll municipal officials, but "probably could be done in Carroll County."
She said the zones could be a mechanism for retaining the character of Carroll towns while permitting development.
"In so many of the newsubdivisions, you can't tell you're in Carroll County and not in NewJersey, or anywhere else," she said.
The concept would be easier to implement in towns, such as New Windsor and Union Bridge, that have experienced little growth in the past 50 years, than in Westminster, whose downtown is overshadowed by peripheral development, said Conaway.
Several municipal officials said the proposal involves complex issues and would require thorough study. Manchester Councilman Geoff Black said the rights of landowners or developers must be balanced with town interests.
"I'm concerned that adequate protections are provided so a homogenous format is not thrust down somebody's throat," he said.
Westminster Councilman Edward S. Calwell said the proposal "looks good on the surface" but might be unrealistic politically.
Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he likes the idea but believes it could meet with some resistance.