Growth revitalizes former railroad town

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE

June 12, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Mount Airy, a hilly town straddling two counties and bordering two others at the extreme southwest corner of Carroll County, has good cause to celebrate besides its 100th birthday.

Recent growth has brought new life to this former railroad town, which is attracting people who are seeking safe schools and less crime.

"Mount Airy died from lack of growth years ago, in the '40s and '50s," says R. Delaine Hobbs Jr., lifelong resident and Town Council member for 28 years. "The growth has made it a viable town to live in again and continued growth will make it more viable."

He stressed, however, that the growth is being managed with proper planning.

"We've controlled the growth," Mr. Hobbs says. "We've maintained a level of growth that we can maintain with the needed services. Our infrastructure funding was preplanned to be in place when we needed it. We've always been a leader in planning."

Almost all of the growth right now is on the Frederick County side of town. In the last five years, Mount Airy, which issues its own permits, approved 353 use and occupancy permits for Frederick homes, compared to six on the Carroll County side, says B. J. Dixon, town planning and zoning clerk.

The Frederick growth has balanced the population. Between 1980 and 1994, the town's population jumped from 2,540 to 4,498. Only about one-quarter of the town residents lived in Frederick County in 1980; today, half live there.

The biggest subdivision, for instance, the 303-home Twin Ridge with colonial-style homes, is about half finished. Village Gate, with 143 homes, is next to Twin Ridge. These three- to-five bedroom single-family homes range in price from $190,000 to $240,000.

But smaller ranchers and colonials are also available, such as those in Summerwood starting at $133,900.

Three developments in the works on the Carroll County side consist of less than 40 homes each, including a 36-townhouse subdivision at the north end of town. Units are available from $113,900.

Mount Airy is open-minded to various types of housing. Apartments, townhouses and several styles and sizes of single-family homes are available. A senior hous ing project is also in the works.

In 1992, the town opened three buildings -- a $1.5 million firehouse on North Main Street, a second elementary school on the Frederick side of town and a library-senior center on Ridge Avenue.

"This was a wake-up call to the town," says Teresa Bamberger, town planner. "People didn't realize how much we'd grown to warrant these kinds of facilities."

The town will continue to grow in the coming years. Of its 2,366 acres, 1,059 acres are still undeveloped, Ms. Bamberger said.

Mount Airy is situated on Parr's Ridge, the highest point between Baltimore and Braddock Heights, Frederick County. The expansion of the B&O Railroad in the 1830s to the tiny community ensured the growth of the area.

In the next three decades the community grew, but the town didn't get its name until the 1860s, so the story goes, when an Irish B&O brakeman whose ears were freezing from the cold air crossing Parr's Ridge suggested Mount Airy.

The railroad station today houses medical offices and a pharmacy.

The heart of Mount Airy is the downtown business district, surrounded by the older, established residential community, comprised of sprawling Victorian homes, shaded by huge oaks, maples and pines. Then, on the outer edges of town are the newer homes and several shopping centers.

From the highest points of Mount Airy, the western Maryland mountains can be seen in all their splendor. A short distance from the southwestern town limits is Parr's Spring, where the Patapsco River originates and four counties come together -- Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery.

About a half-hour away from any major metropolis, Mount Airy is a haven for people working in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

It offers a relatively easy commute -- Interstate 70 and Route 27 provide open, fast-moving roads in any direction.

"We like to consider Mount Airy the garden spot of Maryland," says David Koucky, community sales manager for Grayson Homes in Twin Ridge. "Mount Airy is accessible -- you can go to the Orioles game, visit the Smithsonian, go shopping in hTC Westminster, Frederick, Columbia or Baltimore, all within an hour's drive or less."

Feeling on this burgeoning growth is mixed. "We see a lot of new faces, which is always good for business. You can't stop progress -- you just have to go with the flow," says Dorothy Gosnell, manager at Olde Town Restaurant on Main Street.

But some retired, longtime residents feel differently.

"It's time for it to slow down," says Catherine Lowman. "Some of the growth has been good, but it's time to slow down because it's going to lose it's small town atmosphere if it keeps on."

Mr. Hobbs counters, "The small town atmosphere is in the core of the downtown area and that will stay basically the same. The growth is occurring on the outer edges of town."

Population: 4,498 (in 1994, Carroll County Department of Planning)

4 Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 45 minutes

Public schools: Mount Airy Elementary (Carroll County side), Twin Ridge Elementary (Frederick County side), Mount Airy Middle (Carroll County side), South Carroll High, Linganore High

Shopping: Twin Arch Shopping Center, Mount Airy Shopping Center, Ridgeville Shopping Center, South Main Street Shopping Center, Dubbaneh Center, downtown Main Street shops

Nearest mall: Francis Scott Key Mall, Frederick, 13 miles west

Points of interest: Prospect Park, Watkins Park, views of the Western Maryland mountains, Woodbine Glider Airport, New Market antiques town to the west

Average price of single-family home*: $164,400, Frederick County (76 sales); $145,661 for Carroll County (54 sales)

ZIP code: 21771

* Average price for homes sold in first-quarter of 1994 through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service and the Frederick County Multiple Listing Service

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