Clustered development dots Sparks' farmland 2 communities now, but residents are one on limiting growth

Neighborhood Profile

November 05, 1995|By Amy Bernstein | Amy Bernstein,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sparks residents keep a wary eye on open spaces. Once you are deep in the heart of Sparks, it's difficult to remember that a major thruway and shopping mall are mere moments away.

The village's two-lane roads are dense with trees. There are no traffic lights. And late-Victorian houses peep through the woods, while hundred-acre farms display vast, fertile hillsides. This, at any rate, is old Sparks: an agricultural town that grew up around the nearby North Central Railroad (now a paved hike and bike trail).

It's a town where young men at the turn of the century attended an agricultural high school, in preparation for a life of farming. A town where, to this day, there is no downtown, save for a bank, a post office, and a small general store.

But to reach old Sparks -- and steep yourself in its agrarian past, seemingly miles from traditional suburbia -- you must travel through new Sparks.

In new Sparks, trees are sparse, but attorneys, physicians, accountants, and business executives are quite common. New Sparks is a product of late-twentieth century suburban development, where residences constructed over the last 10 years are built in dense clusters, grouped mainly by price (ranging from the modest apartments of Loveton Farms to the half-million-dollar-plus homes of Mission Ridge).

Here, businesses array themselves not along a quaint roadway, but in Loveton Circle, an industrial park. Not surprisingly, much of the newer development disturbs residents who settled in Sparks before the building boom of the early 1980s began.

Truth be told, old Sparks and new Sparks don't always see eye-to-eye.

"You used to hardly see a car on the corner of Phoenix and York [roads]," says Lyle Brecht, head of the Greater Sparks-Glencoe Community Association. "And now you have to wait 10 to 15 minutes to get out."

The York-Phoenix interchange is at the tip of the Loveton Farms townhouse-condominium development -- and adjacent to the proposed development of a hotly contested 215-acre parcel known as Colvista.

So far, Baltimore County planners have vetoed a proposal to turn the wooded Colvista property into more than 1,000 Italianate villas. Because the land is a watershed abutting the Loch Raven Reservoir, it should remain pristine, planners and environmentalists argue.

But protecting the environment is only one reason why Sparks residents such as Mr. Brecht vehemently oppose Colvista.

"People are really trying to protect a quality of life and aesthetics and beauty" of the area, Mr. Brecht says.

"This is a classic case of a mammoth developer spending millions to persuade a community to do something that may not be in its best interests."

But in land-use battles such as this one (which is still unresolved), deep pockets do not always prevail.

Dan Wernecke, executive vice president of Sparks Bank, is optimistic that the Sparks community's anti-development sentiment is a powerful deterrent to future construction.

"I think we'll see less and less development as a result of the community groups not wanting to have a lot of growth in the area," Mr. Wernecke says.

No shopping centers

"No major strip centers or shopping centers like Hunt Valley Mall" are likely to go up in Sparks, he says. The community has strong support from Baltimore County, which does not wish to pay for the additional sewer and water lines that large-scale development entails.

For Sparks to remain a low-density area, residents and planners will ultimately have to find ways to make the town's remaining undeveloped, and semideveloped, tracts productive.

That's where newcomers such as Susan Blum come in. Ms. Blum is the new owner of Summer Hill Farms, a 25-acre riding and boarding stable for area equestrians. The property sits on a hill that overlooks Hunt Valley and the Baltimore skyline.

Next year, Ms. Blum and her husband, Ken, plan to build a house on the farm.

"We walked up there," says Ms. Blum, "and I said, 'This is where I want to live the rest of my life.' It's a very wholesome kind of life."

As adjacent acres go up for sale, says Ms. Blum, "I'll accumulate as much as I can to buffer any development. I'll try to keep the integrity of the land. That's what Maryland's all about."

For now, Sparks remains a community divided over living styles (with farms and old mansions balanced by new townhouses and estates), yet increasingly united over the desire to cap off development at current levels.

SPARKS

Sparks population: 4,531 (Baltimore County Office of Planning. Includes portions of Belfast, Hereford and Monkton.)

Commuting time: Hunt Valley and Towson (5 to 15 mins.) Baltimore, 30 minutes

Public schools: Hereford High; Hereford Middle; Jacksonville Elementary

Shopping centers: Shawan Plaza

Nearest mall: Hunt Valley

Points of interest: Oldfields School for Girls (1867); North Central Railroad Trail (Gunpowder Falls State Park); Milton Inn; Sparks Bank Nature Center (opening early 1996)

ZIP code: 21152

Average price of single-family home: $307,948 **

* Based on the average price of 36 units sold in ZIP code 21152 between October 1994 and October 1995, as reported by Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc.

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