Countryside charm preserved, for now

March 13, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

At Ledo's restaurant in Fulton, patrons eat regionally famous pizza and watch Holsteins graze across the road.

At the same little shopping center, area residents can buy antiques at the place local farmers used to drop off their milk cans. Before going home to a sprawling 1-to-3-acre lot a few minutes away, a telecommuter might stop at the center's computer store for a new disk drive or fax-modem.

All of this is smack in the middle of the Baltimore-Washington corridor. It is the stuff that builders' pitches are made of. Rural charm untrammeled by suburban growth.

"We love this area; we think it's very peaceful and quiet," says Medora Rau, who with husband Donald C. Rau moved to Fulton from Adelphi 30 years ago.

The Raus live on 1 1/4 acres in a four-bedroom Colonial in the Mooresfield subdivision, which is shaded by mature trees that Mr. Rau planted shortly after the couple arrived.

"We just loved the area; the idea that it's halfway between Baltimore and Washington," Mrs. Rau said.

After the end of the decade, however, the Raus and other residents of Fulton's 550 homes worry it could become a mini-Columbia, with a large shopping center, office buildings, warehouses, apartments and townhouses. Under new zoning approved last year by members of the Howard County Council, all those things are theoretically possible, although no developer or landowner has made any announcements.

"I don't think anyone is really opposed to growth, it's just a matter of, 'Is it controlled, and will it reduce our standard of living?' " says Peter J. Oswald, who moved to Fulton from Silver Spring 11 years ago. Mr. Oswald has organized a countywide effort to overturn the new zoning.

County officials argue that growth is inevitable, and the strictly regulated "mixed-use" zoning on 820 acres of farmland will ensure that growth is concentrated where the county can best provide schools, roads and utilities to accommodate it.

Even if its owners wanted to develop tomorrow, the approval process would take several years and no development could take place until Route 216 is relocated between U.S. 29 and Interstate 95. The highway project has yet to be designed because it would destroy wetlands.

Much of the mixed-use area is owned by the Iager family, who have been farming there since the 1830s. Their Maple Lawn Farm is known throughout the region for the hundreds of turkeys raised there, along with its sizable herd of dairy cattle.

Fulton turkeys have over the years been carved at White House dinners, and Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev toured the farm during his 1959 visit to the United States.

Even if the mixed-use center becomes a reality, dense development won't cross Route 216, insists Joan Cochran, one of Long & Foster's top real estate agents in the county.

"The south side will always be protected from the development," she says, because a ridge makes it difficult to extend sewer lines to the area.

South of the road is Beaufort Park Estates, a luxury subdivision of four- and five-bedroom Colonials, many of them on one-acre lots built before the county imposed minimum three-acre rural zoning in the 1980s.

Mr. Oswald said that one of the things that convinced him to move to Fulton were the children who waved at him as he drove through Beaufort Park. "Everybody seems to know each other. It was really different," he says.

Charles Iager, one of the three siblings who own and operate the Maple Lawn Farm, remembers when even motorists bore familiar faces.

"When I was a teen-ager, and I mowed the pasture out here, I would wave to every car that passed, because I knew them," he says, adding that nowadays he is lucky to get cars to slow down for his farm equipment to cross the road.

Still, anyone who makes regular trips to the post office, which is right next to Fulton Station, is apt to be on a first-name basis with the staff.

Were it not for the post office or the Iagers, Fulton could have lost its name.

Fulton got its name in 1882 when Ernest Brady took over as the new postmaster in Brady's Store, now Jennifer Crafts at Lime Kiln Road and Route 216. The first postmaster, Richard Waters, named his store and the town after himself in 1874.

In the early 1980s, there was talk of closing the Fulton post office for good, which would have swallowed the community and its name into Clarksville's ZIP code.

That upset Ellsworth Iager.

"He didn't want to lose the post office. He didn't want to lose Fulton," recalls the late Mr. Iager's son, Charles Iager. Ellsworth Iager contracted to build the current post office on his land, and the family still leases it to the Postal Service.


Population: 700 (Rand McNally estimate based on 1990 census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 40 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 50 minutes

Public schools: Pointer's Run Elementary School, Clarksville Middle School, Atholton High School.

Shopping: Fulton Station, Route 216 and Lime Kiln Road, and Cherry Tree Center, Route 216 and U.S. 29.

Nearest mall: The Mall in Columbia, Laurel Centre in Laurel.

Points of interest: New county public safety facility, Route 216 near U.S. 29, Maple Lawn Farm, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

4 *Average price of single family home; $242,203

Zip Code: 20759

* Average price for homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service over the last 12 months.

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