Sleepy community sheds rural image

November 28, 1993|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

The schools in Perry Hall are overcrowded, and the roads are clogged about any time of day. Crime is up, and the number of green fields is down.

What once seemed like a country escape is looking more and more like the city.

But Karen Hoskins says she won't leave.

"I have history in Perry Hall," says Ms. Hoskins, 42. "I have a brother here, and the house I grew up in is here. My kids have roots with friends here. You don't move when you have that."

Many of the families that make Perry Hall home have lived here for generations. Streets are named after them: Klausmeier Road, Simms Avenue, Miller Road. The Klausmeiers are still in town, as are the Simms, Millers, Akehursts, Lassahns and a half-dozen other families whose names are in local history books.

Perry Hall's history goes back to the 1770s and Harry Dorsey Gough, who built a stone house on a hill overlooking his 1,000-acre estate. He called the house Perry Hall -- the name of a castle that belonged to an English ancestor -- and considered Belair Road just below it as his own private highway to Baltimore.

The land was divided into lots and sold after the Civil War, but the original Perry Hall mansion, now a private residence, still stands on Perry Hall Road in the northern part of the community.

Longtime residents say Perry Hall stayed sleepy, a haven from the bustle of the city, until about the 1970s. That's when the first apartment building came. Strip malls and more gas stations followed, along with more homes and businesses.

By 1980, Baltimore County had made Perry Hall a designated-growth area in its master plan. For the next decade, county planners directed that housing tracts, shopping centers and offices be built between Perry Hall and its southern neighbor, White Marsh.

Planning was inadequate

That would have been fine, some residents say, if more roads, schools and fire stations had been included in the development plans.

Still, John Lally, 39, a real estate agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn and a resident of Perry Hall, says the community is "a nice place to raise a family." But he acknowledges that crowding is a problem for everyone.

"It's a difficult situation. The community offers a good mix of houses in a good price range. There are a lot of people who like this area, who are moving here. Thus the overcrowding of the schools.

"The county is doing what it can to help with the road situation. They widened Joppa Road and are widening Belair, which will help. But each year it's progressively gotten a little worse. Building in Perry Hall in the Belair corridor got under way, and it's been steady development since."

Dorothy McMann, 61, is president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, organized in 1945. She has lived in Perry Hall for 22 years and watched it change from a community where the shopkeepers knew her name to what she says is now a much more impersonal place.

She fears that even if services catch up with development, new condominiums, townhouses and apartments will destabilize the community.

"The whole character of the community changed when they brought in townhouses and apartments," Mrs. McMann said. "We see a lot more apartments being planned. Perry Hall Farms between Chapel Road and Forge Road would have a mix of 900 condos, apartments and townhouses and very few individual homes in an area that is very rural. They are still farming out there.

"That's a big concern," she said. "It's not that we want to keep people out, but apartments do make for a transient neighborhood."

Chuck Marks, 57, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty in Perry Hall, agrees that school overcrowding and clogged roadways are serious problems that deserve attention.

But overall, Mr. Marks believes Perry Hall still offers a good mix of homes, conveniences and recreation, and says the community's problems are not being ignored.

Mr. Marks, a member of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, said the county is looking at expanding Perry Hall High School and building schools south of the area in White Marsh. The State Highway Administration is widening main roads, including Belair Road. It recently added access to recreational areas along Gunpowder Falls to the north.

Three- and four-bedroom tract homes complement town homes ZTC and condos close to Perry Hall's central crossroads at Belair and Joppa roads. Farther away from busy Belair are historic old homes and custom estates with large acreage.

Church still rings chimes

For all its mad growth and change, Perry Hall still has curious quirks that give it a village personality. The Perry Hall Presbyterian Church, for example, still rings noontime chimes.

Side streets just off the main roads and curve at odd angles, revealing an unusual mix of homes: A modest new Colonial with trimmed lawns sits across the street from a much older house with wild foliage and plaster lions growling at the driveway. Rusted old News-American bins wait to receive the long-defunct newspaper in front of a handful of homes.

Ms. Hoskins said she still believes Perry Hall is close-knit, but keeping that feeling alive depends on involvement of its residents.

"I still love it, and I still fight for it," she said. "I'd recommend it to anybody, as long as they know the county has made it an extension of the Baltimore metropolitan area, and you may get apartments in your backyard. That's something a lot of us aren't yet accustomed to."

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