Heading for the hills Suburban flight: There's no getting away from it all, even in remote Western Maryland.

June 28, 1996

FROM MARYLAND'S most remote county comes bad news for exurbanites fleeing to the far reaches of Carroll, Harford or southern Pennsylvania in hopes of escaping the troubles of city and suburbia.

The news is this: They haven't run far enough. Not by a long shot.

Sun reporter Liz Atwood visited Garrett County, the state's western-most subdivision, to research its new growth management law -- Garrett is the last county in Maryland to draft countywide land-use rules -- and found residents grousing about the same problems upsetting folks in Westminster and Abingdon: too much traffic and crime, too many people replacing wild animals as their neighbors. People who migrated way out there from Baltimore or Washington moaned that others seem to have the same idea. If only, they said, there were a way to stop the growth.

The irony is that the words "growth" and "Garrett" barely belong in the same sentence. Garrett countians still don't know the meaning of the term "cul-de-sac." You won't find subdivisions, sprawl or congestion as metropolitan-area residents know them. Garrett County is still a wilderness, at least most of it is. A full 20 percent of its forests and lakes are state parks. Its growth-control advocates point out that Garrett has lost more than 6,000 acres to development between 1973 and 1990, but that is not very much for a 421,000-acre county to lose over nearly two decades. Only 300 new houses are being built a year (compared to 1,600 a year in Harford).

And yet there are real development concerns in Garrett. Large chunks of land are being gobbled up for new homes. The population shift from working families, many of whom are moving due to the loss of local jobs, to retirees and vacation people alters the local economy. But growth has not turned Garrett into anything resembling a suburb. The trouble is that if the distance between you and your neighbor was 10 miles when you moved there and is five miles now, you start to worry that you haven't gotten as far away as you thought.

And you haven't. The idea to head for the hills isn't new. In western Howard or far Western Maryland, you can live a very different life than inside the beltway. You can escape many things. Change, alas, isn't one of them.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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