During 1980s, affluence found a new home along the fringes Gap between rich, poor areas grew

October 04, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Newly minted suburbs on the perimeter of metropolita Baltimore enjoyed the fattest slice of the region's prosperity in the 1980s, census results show.

As if moved by a socioeconomic type of centrifugal force, upper middle-class families spun off from the metropolitan core of Baltimore and its older suburbs to the area's fringes. Affluent households followed the path cleared by bulldozers and

backhoes to subdivisions freshly carved from farmland and forest.

The new suburbs of southern Anne Arundel, western Howard, and northern Carroll and Harford counties all were boom areas. As homes there multiplied, so did household income, consistently outpacing the inflation rate, according to state planners.

This portrait of where the money went in the 1980s emerged from a Maryland Office of Planning analysis of household income data from the 1990 census. The figures offer the first community-level look at how income shifted in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

The new suburbs became home during the decade to people like David and Lisa Larson.

Mr. Larson, a Giant Food vice president, and Mrs. Larson, a chemical company sales representative, moved in 1983 from Bowie to a brand-new house in Hermitage, a woodsy development east of Crofton and just north of Route 450 in Anne Arundel County. Custom-built homes on 2-acre lots sell there for $300,000 and up.

The creation of Hermitage and neighboring Huntington Woods quickly turned the area east of Crofton from a middle-class, largely rural community into one of metropolitan Baltimore's 10 wealthiest pockets. Median household income there was more than $75,000.

"Our neighbors are all middle-aged, all professionals or own their own businesses," said Mr. Larson, 48. "I love it here. It's very stable, quiet -- I'd say remote. You know who your neighbors are, but they don't bother you."

Thousands of other prosperous Maryland families transformed once-rural areas in the 1980s.

"Growth is more spread out than ever," said Michel A. Lettre, assistant director of the Maryland Office of Planning. "Population densities are actually falling in older urban areas, particularly as families with children move out to the fringes. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in growth areas."

"In the long run, it's an expensive way to live, both for individuals and the provision of public services," Mr. Lettre said. "There may be conflicts in the '90s between what government can deliver and what people in these areas expect," such as new roads and schools.

The census data measure household income at the end of the decade, and don't reflect the effects of recession in the 1990s. But recent state tax figures indicate that the prosperity gap between the new suburbs and the metropolitan core has continued to widen.

Income growth in the Baltimore area as a whole during the 1980s far exceeded the national average. Median household income -- the point at which half the households make more and half make less -- grew to $36,821, an increase of 16.7 percent after adjusting for inflation. That more than doubled the national rise of 6.5 percent (to $30,056).

The gap between the richest and poorest jurisdictions in metropolitan Baltimore grew even wider, as it did across the nation. Median household income for Howard County, the wealthiest jurisdiction, was $54,348, a rise of 17 percent after inflation. That was more than twice Baltimore City's median income of $24,045, which grew by 12 percent.

While the new suburbs flourished, the traditional horse country and lush valleys along Greenspring Valley Road between Park ** Heights Avenue and Falls Road in Baltimore County remained the area's single poshest address.

Median household income was a cool $136,885 in the Stevenson area between the Baltimore Beltway and Hillside Road. Not far behind was the Greenspring Valley area immediately to the north, with median household income of $127,001.

As befits the area's most well-to-do community, the million-dollar homes of Anton North in Stevenson are almost palatial. Anton North is the kind of neighborhood where two stone lions flank the entrance to a mock-Tudor mansion, resting their front paws on shields.

But most of Stevenson is remarkable mainly for its lack of ostentation. The metro area's richest group of citizens live largely in sprawling, low-slung ranchers.

The quaint Stevenson Village Center does hint at the community's wealth. The shopping area is not the usual mix of 7-Eleven, video store, pizzeria and Chinese carryout. Instead, there is a jeweler, an interior decorator, an antique dealer, a book shop, three upscale clothing boutiques and a "day spa" offering aromatherapy.

"These are mostly older people who moved in 20 years ago and have a very nice place in Florida also," said Linda Seidel, a real estate agent who grew up in Stevenson. "Their houses aren't mansions, but I'm sure they are very well-to-do."

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