When David Stough bought his home in the Wetherburn subdivision off Old Frederick Road a year ago, he hadn't counted on organizing his neighbors in a fight against the neighborhood's developer.
The problem, Stough says, is not what Donald R. Reuwer Jr. has done, but what he wants to do: develop a business, residential and golfing village on 682 adjoining acres during the next 20 years.
"We're not against growth," says Stough, chairman of a 2-month-old group called Citizens Allied for Rational Expansion. "It's the magnitude of the growth that we oppose."
If approved by the zoning board -- the county zoning office has already given it a preliminary OK -- the Reuwer project would radically change the character of the neighborhood, Stough says.
Ironically, most people opposed to Reuwer's Waverly Woods village idea live, like Stough, in burgeoning Reuwer developments along a half-mile stretch of Old Frederick Road in the part of the county northwest of Ellicott City.
"I've created a monster," Reuwer says with a laugh.
Stough and his neighbors couldn't agree more.
The issue is trust -- or lack of it. Reuwer complains that he hasn't had a fair hearing, and that if he gets one, most people will support the project. Residents say Reuwer is sugar-coating the proposal and is downplaying or omitting what they consider to be its negative aspects.
Most of the more than775 families living in Reuwer developments bought their homes through his American Properties real estate firm.
Some residents protesting Reuwer's plans say American Properties sales agents misled them when they purchased their homes. They say Reuwer's real estate agents told them the area would stay pretty much the same.
The subdivisions Reuwer has developed along Old Frederick Road differ little from some half-acre lot neighborhoods in Columbia -- except they are newer and have seedlings in place of trees and shrubbery. The view from most front lawns is of houses costing $300,000 or more sitting on treeless lots. Wetherburn could be any new, upper middle-class subdivision in America.
Not to Stough. He looks at the ongoing construction assign of things to come if Reuwer is allowed to proceed. He points toa spot where bulldozers cut through a 40-foot-wide growth of mature trees to make a road. He says it is typical of what will occur.
Also typical, he says, is the dirt-caked street and heavy-duty traffic leading up to his cul-de-sac. On this day the street is clogged with cement mixers and 18-wheelers carrying tree stumps and building debris.
At his home a block away, Stough looks out at the rooftop of Waverly Elementary School and says, "It's already overcrowded now, but if this thing comes, we'll have to bring in relocatable classrooms."
Out back, sediment fences abut Stough's yard. Immediately beyond the fences, earth movers prepare a treeless, muddyvalley for more homes.
"I don't plan to live the rest of my life surrounded by construction," says Stough, who owns a company that cleans newly built homes before they are shown to prospective buyers.
One approach to Stough's Wetherburn neighborhood is south on Old Frederick Road from the Marriottsville Road intersection. The property Reuwer wants to develop is on the right. It consists mostly of rollinghills covered with thickets and cornfields. Small groups of mature trees dot the landscape. Across from the property on the left of the road, modest country homes sit on three-acre lots.
The view from the two-lane road continues like this for about a mile, until on the right at the crest of the hill, construction equipment dominates previously unseen landscape. The Waverly Woods and Wetherburn subdivisions that back up to it emerge without warning.
Stough says the whole road will look this for the next 20 years if Reuwer has his way. The road will need to be straightened and widened to at least four lanes to accommodate traffic, he believes.
Reuwer asserts that the impacton Old Frederick Road will be minimal and that his site zoning petition means everything must be developed and built exactly as he says or not at all, but Stough and residents opposed to the project don't believe it.
"Look at the 'For sale' signs along Old Frederick Road and you'll understand how people feel," Stough says.
"Did you know I am responsible for this?" Reuwer says of thepaving and restriping now taking place on Old Frederick Road. "Yeah -- I ordered the State Highway Administration to do it to get ready (for Waverly village)."
He laughs at his exaggeration of his influence. But his joking indicates how different his life is from 10 yearsago, when he was a Baltimore County social studies teacher.
Virtually unknown in Howard County development circles as recently as six years ago, Reuwer is today the major player in the I-70 corridor westof Ellicott City.