Mountain Road's days as a backwater are over

Comment

July 07, 1996|By Brian Sullam

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I got a glimpse of why people are clamoring to impose a development moratorium on Pasadena's Mountain Road peninsula.

I just didn't know it at the time because I was preoccupied with more mundane matters, such as finding my way to the latrine and figuring out how to cook breakfast over an open fire.

I was one of a half-dozen parent chaperones who accompanied a troop of boisterous Brownies to a weekend adventure at Camp Whipporwill, a Girl Scout camp on Cockey Creek off Lake Shore Drive. As I was driving down Mountain Road to the camp, I thought how strange it was to have a camp in the middle of this conglomeration of gas stations, liquor outlets, laundromats and convenience stores.

But the biggest surprise was finding that this rustic camp, with its split log cabins, open cooking pits and twin-hole outhouses, was right beside a new development of single-family homes with manicured yards. The incongruity between this camp with its primitive conditions and the modernity of the new residential construction struck me on the first night as I made my way to the outhouse.

With flashlight in hand, I was navigating down the narrow path cut through the thick brush that covered the section of the property where we camped. As I stepped around some poison ivy, I happened to look up. About 100 feet away was a big picture window that gave me a good view into a brightly lighted family room. Images jumped around on a large-screen television, and I could see two people with their feet propped up on the coffee table sipping beers.

At the time, my only thought was how lucky they were to have a flush toilet. Looking back, I think the contrast between Camp Whipporwill and this house in Whipporwill Estates is symbolic of the problems facing this and other Anne Arundel peninsulas.

The pressure to build along the waterfront in this county, which boasts 430 miles of it, is growing again. A quarter-century of environmental measures has improved the water quality enough so that people want to live on or close to the water.

Developers are now assessing many of the county's waterfront parcels that had been passed up during previous waves of residential development. The parcel next to Camp Whipporwill is a vivid example of the process.

For years, developers shunned waterfront property on the Mountain Road peninsula. Land fronting on the Severn River or on the south shore of the Magothy River was considered to be Anne Arundel's most desirable waterfront locations. That's where homebuilders focused their attention the past quarter-century.

At the same time, a less visible residential growth was taking place off Mountain Road.

Attracted by lower land costs, some developers started putting in subdivisions along the many creeks and inlets on the peninsula. Most of these new homes were located off the main roads and were hardly noticed. Residents began to realize that this somewhat rustic and forgotten part of the county was actually booming.

With only one road -- Mountain Road -- in and out of the peninsula, it is hard to miss the 27,000 cars that travel back and forth each day. Classes at the area's elementary schools seem to be perpetually crowded.

When County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr. proposed building a 2 1/2 -mile, two-lane bypass around congested Mountain Road, residents reacted with anger.

They didn't want a bypass. They wanted a building moratorium.

Last week, the council enacted a one-year ban on approvals for new residential development along the peninsula, east of the intersection of Mountain Road and Route 100. At best, the measure will provide a little breathing room. It will not stop the onslaught of development.

Route 100's impact

With the coming extension of Route 100 to Interstate 95, the pressure is building again to develop land along the peninsula.

Since it's relatively close to major employment centers such as Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the National Security Agency and Fort Meade, homebuilders see great potential for large subdivisions that will be attractive to people who don't want to commute long distances to work or want easy access to businesses in nearby Howard and Baltimore counties.

From the standpoint of controlling sprawl in Anne Arundel, it would make sense to focus development in this portion of the county, rather than in the rolling horse country and farmland to the south where intense development pressure is now being felt.

The Mountain Road corridor's days as a residential backwater are coming to an end.

I don't know what the Girl Scouts plan to do with Camp Whipporwill, but I am sure dozens of developers would love to get their hands on that property.

It is probably just a matter of years before the camp's outhouses and cabins will be leveled for living rooms with big-screen TVs.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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