Crofton - Back To The Drawing Board

November 28, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Nearly three decades ago, they came to a place tucked in the woods and fields of western Anne Arundel County in search of Camelot.

In Crofton, behind the imposing gates, past the guardhouse, Kentucky native Dave Espie marveled at the gas lights flickering along the manicured, circular parkway. Washington trial attorney Dosek relished the thought of playing golf on the course winding through trees and alongside back yards. Housewife Marsha Perry discovered four-bedroom homes with finished basements in her favorite Colonial Williamsburg style -- for just $28,000.

Developer Hamilton Crawford of Baton Rouge, La., left little to chance when it came to his vision of utopia, right down to the air the residents of his private, country club community breathed in their homes -- "free of dust" the brochures said, purified with the latest in air filters. The developer dug a lake and stocked it with fish. A guard at the Route 3 entrance kept strangers out and locked the gates each night, while a private security force patrolled the streets.

"It was like an oasis in those days," recalled Mr. Espie, 65, whose family was one of the first 25 to move to Crofton in 1965. "It was really in the boondocks."

For much of its three decades, Crofton retained its bucolic charm, as thousands migrated from Virginia and Washington, as well as the Midwest, to a community offering equally painless commutes to the nation's capital, Baltimore and Annapolis.

But this utopia's getting crowded. Residents talk of Crofton's well-planned beginning, yet they also speak with urgency about the need for a new plan. Without one, they say, they can most certainly expect a future of dangerous highways, crowded schools, haphazard commercial planning, a shortage of ball fields for youngsters and few housing options for the elderly.

Though growth has brought better services to Crofton, Mr. Espie said, "With the convenience has come congestion, and not very good control of the aesthetics of development."

Residents of the state's first planned community like to brag about community spirit -- the churches' holiday food baskets, the Kiwanis Club's community cleanups.

As they always have in Crofton, costumed children march along Crofton Parkway every Halloween and morning joggers exchange daily waves and hellos. Children often return after college to settle in one of the brick-front split foyers or ranchers with well-kept lawns or townhouses that form courts off the wooded main streets.

"Beaver and Wally would move here," joked Jon M. Grant, a Washington architect who bypassed McLean, Va., and Annapolis when he moved from Pittsburgh five years ago.

"People know when they move to Crofton what they'll get," said Becky Daniel, a 24-year resident. "The success is obvious by the development that has sprung up around us."

The triangle bounded by Routes 3, 424 and 450 has grown from the 500 original Crawford homes to a mix of 3,200 houses, townhouses and apartments, a town of 10,000 people.

Only one major undeveloped parcel remains -- along Route 450, where developer Richard Azrael of Chateau Builders has begun building 77 homes in the Willows of Crofton.

Few communities ended up as well put together as Crofton, said Mr. Grant, who also serves as planning and zoning director for the community's civic association.

"A lot of people are finding out about this, and we're seeing incredible growth," he said. "The question is whether we can survive the growth."

Outside the triangle, a hodgepodge of strip development has sprung up -- fast-food restaurants, shopping centers, auto repair shops -- mostly along Route 3 where traffic clogs the four-lane highway. Still, roadside signs advertise new developments sprouting throughout the booming western Anne Arundel County corridor, while new homes brochures tout the exclusivity of a "Golden Triangle" address.

And building in Greater Crofton shows no signs of slowing. More people with a Crofton ZIP code live outside the original borders than inside. Thousands of new homes have been built, are under construction or will be built in three major subdivisions: Crofton Meadows, with 1,850 homes; Crofton Mews, not yet fully subdivided; and Walden, expecting a total of 1,100 homes. Several hundred more homes are under construction in Crofton Chase, The Manors of Crofton and Chapman Farms.

How it began

In 1964, Hamilton Crawford began building the first of 500 homes on 1,500 acres, but not before first laying out his centerpiece -- a swimming pool, tennis courts, golf course and a Williamsburg-style village green along Crofton Parkway.

Ms. Perry, now a state delegate, recalls her Washington friends' reactions in 1965 when she told them she was moving to the self-contained, but isolated world, with a small grocery, drugstore and post office tucked into the village green. Crofton and Crofton Woods elementary schools and shopping centers along Route 3 had yet to be built.

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