Last village encroaching on Clarksville Rural resident fear Columbia surburb will erase farming identity

Increase in crime feared

Some say differences in cultures become obvious in area

November 12, 1995|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,SUN STAFF

The westward march of Columbia's suburbs is engulfing rural Clarksville.

On one side of Trotter Road -- a scenic country lane where burgeoning River Hill village meets Clarksville -- Columbia's latest suburban pioneers contract for lawn services, endlessly debate locations of community paths, send children to play in cul-de-sacs and mingle across small yards.

On the other side of Trotter Road, longtime residents live in relative seclusion, ride mowers over expansive lawns, raise crops and bemoan the passing of the days when they could drive a mare and cart down the road where they now dodge traffic to retrieve their mail.

Planned by the Rouse Co. in the 1960s and four years into development, Columbia's final village is creating a clash of cultures and bringing traffic concerns, fear of crime, a new highway and the beginnings of a business boom to the sleepy crossroads hamlet of Clarksville.

In the process, many Clarksville residents fear, the western Howard County region's identity as a farming community is disappearing.

"We're certainly going to be the 2-ton gorilla. River Hill is going to dominate the Clarksville area," said David W. Berson, Columbia Council representative from River Hill, where the population of about 2,000 residents is projected to grow to 6,700 within about six years.

"But we're trying to be a neighborly 2-ton gorilla, not just sit on the neighbors and squash them," he said. "I think we've done a pretty good job of that."

The Rev. Jeffrey Dauses, who says his St. Louis Roman Catholic Church in Clarksville is "bursting at the seams" as new River Hill parishioners keep arriving, agrees that Clarksville inevitably "will be absorbed. I think people are resigned to it."

Residents of the neighboring communities say their cultural differences are obvious and that they have had little reason to interact socially. Some Clarksville residents even fought to maintain their Clarksville ZIP code -- and with it their rural identity -- rather than change to a Columbia ZIP.

"We're the type who are individualists. We live our lives privately," said Shirley Geis, president of the Trotter Road Citizens Association and a 39-year Clarksville resident. "It's a whole different concept of life than you have in a Columbia community."

Michael Lauriente, who sees River Hill's crowded houses across Guilford Road from his large-lot Clarksville Ridge community, said, "It's almost like we look at them as Columbia and we're Clarksville. They're city and we're country."

Despite those differences, residents of both communities say they sometimes have worked together and have common interests, including traffic problems, expansion of the volunteer fire department, business growth and preserving environmental areas and farmland.

John Radin, a River Hill village board member, said residents of his new community want the best of both worlds: Columbia's suburban amenities and neighborliness, and Clarksville's small-town qualities and pastoral setting.

"We're all concerned about preserving the way of life of the area -- the quality of the environment, the countryside and making sure development is consistent with the needs of all people," he said.

About 600 upscale, single-family homes have been built in Columbia's westernmost village, separated from nine other villages by the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and Middle Patuxent River. The Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, plans 2,100 homes upon completion, including nearly 500 townhouses, apartments and condominiums.

A realigned 4.4-mile stretch of Route 32 -- a $28.4 million, four-lane divided highway that cuts through River Hill -- is set to open by mid-December. The long-awaited highway, crucial to River Hill's development, is intended to channel traffic off the congested, winding Guilford Road, the existing two-lane Route 32.

It also signals a new era for Clarksville, said Kathy Ruben, former River Hill village board chairwoman. "It's the symbol [River Hill] has arrived," she said. "Now the floodgates are open."

Ms. Ruben and other River Hill newcomers say they have sensed resentment among some longtime Clarksville residents. "You can't blame them," she said. "A lot of people have lived here 30 to 40 years and have had their space. Maybe they always thought River Hill would go away and they wouldn't have all that Columbia baloney, and it didn't."

The highway will be cause for relief from Guilford Road bottlenecks, but also for concern that easier access and densely developed neighborhoods bordering it "will attract an element of theft and home-breaking like has happened in Columbia," Mr. Lauriente said. "Up to now, we've been spared."

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