But Realtors see little effect on home prices


June 20, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

On a breezy Sunday afternoon, Terry Feelemyer bristles as yet another light rail trolley screeches along the tracks 50 yards from the veranda that wraps around his big Victorian house in Lutherville.

For 13 years, he says, he and his family enjoyed the serenity of a side street in suburbia. Today, every seven minutes, the silence is shattered by the distinctly urban sound resembling that of an elevated subway.

"Out here, it's just out of place," the 52-year-old mechanical contractor says. "These are no more little trolleys than they are flying to the moon. We were flabbergasted when we saw them."

Even more flabbergasted, he adds, when he heard them.

From Linthicum to Timonium, noise more than anything else has caught the attention of homeowners, many of whom view the 22.5-mile Central Light Rail Line -- which opened 13 months ago -- as an unwelcome intrusion, not an ultramodern transportation alternative.

A few years back, the trolley's impending arrival evoked everything from great expectations of a real estate boom by the tracks to dire predictions of doom for some communities.

The reality lies between those extremes. Homes along the line have held their value, and sales have remained steady since light rail's opening. But what state transportation planners had touted as a big draw -- quick, easy downtown access for commuters -- has yet to win many converts.

Nearly empty trains can be seen up and down the line except before and after Oriole games, and so far, daily ridership has averaged only a fourth of the 33,100 daily trips state officials expect by 2010.

Today, few still predict a surge in home prices brought on by demand among those seeking a comparatively painless trip downtown.

Give it time to catch on, say Realtors who work the territories near the line and naturally pin their hopes on light rail eventually taking off.

"It's not Baltimore, yet," says Caroline Benson, a Realtor with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn's Timonium office, who has yet to hear a customer request a location near light rail. "It's a real shame that it's not being used, but Baltimore is the kind of place that has to grow into it."

Ads tout light rail

On the rail line's southern spur -- where service from Patapsco Avenue in Baltimore to Linthicum began in April and where service to Ferndale and Glen Burnie begins today -- Realtors hope light rail receives a warmer welcome.

Listings in northern Anne Arundel County now tout "light rail accessibility," says Susan Rosko, broker/owner of Susan Rosko and Associates.

She predicts resale values in Linthicum will rise by as much as 10 percent over the next 18 months in a bedroom community that now boasts public rail links to Baltimore and Washington.

"From what I've heard and seen, it's quite quiet and will be nothing but a benefit," said Kent Butler, associate broker and branch manager for Coldwell Banker Home Realty Professionals, who stacks light rail schedules in his office by the tracks in Ferndale.

"I don't think there's a down side. Half a dozen buyers have said they want to be within five or 10 minutes of light rail. After it begins running, I expect that to be a common request," Mr. Butler said.

Rail service can only help Ferndale, making it more convenient, says Arthur E. Clough, who has an offer on the split-foyer home he and his wife built 17 years ago four blocks from the tracks. They are asking $118,400.

"This opens up the area to people who do not have access [to a car] or who don't want to drive," says Mr. Clough. He is moving to Texas to retire near family. "Otherwise, we'd still be here. I think property values could rise because of it."

Then the bomb dropped

Not everybody shares his optimism.

In North Linthicum, Pat Schmidt can hear the crossing gate bells and trolley horns from her kitchen, even though busy Camp Meade Road buffers her home from the tracks.

"They said it was going to be quiet," says the 40-year-old owner of a cleaning service. "They said you will not even know it's there. I was looking forward to it. Then the bomb dropped."

The "bomb" came in April when light rail forced a schedule change of the Canton Railroad Co. freight trains that ran only during the day. Now, the freight haulers run sporadically from midnight to 4 a.m., screeching loudly enough to jolt the Schmidts and their neighbors awake.

"This is like out of a Stephen King movie; it's a horror," Mrs. Schmidt says.

"When you're sleep-deprived, it challenges your sanity. We don't want to move. If something doesn't get done, we might have to. But no one's going to want to buy."

Realtors and others looking to buy and sell in communities along the line say homes that back to the tracks or sit within earshot of the trains could be harder to sell because of noise.

But for all the fears, they say, the train's arrival hasn't reduced property values.

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