Since it was sliced into a thousand tiny lots in 1898, North Laurel Park has been a case study in unplanned growth -- a dense patchwork of homes connected by narrow streets without sidewalks, proper drainage or apparent forethought.
Almost a century later, Howard County officials have developed a plan that may finally upgrade the infrastructure in this southernmost corner of the county to modern standards -- and perhaps ease the flooding that regularly sweeps through the community.
Under the plan, developers building the newest sections of North Laurel Park could opt to ask the county to build their developments' infrastructure according to current standards. The developers would later have to reimburse the county for the expense.
That does not mean that sidewalks or modern drainage are coming to the developed parts of the community. But if the newer sections end up with better drainage systems, that could minimize flooding throughout North Laurel Park.
"It's a kind of Band-Aided-together system because it was never built right in the first place," said Deputy Planning Director Marsha McLaughlin, who helped devise the plan.
Unlike all but the very oldest Howard County communities, North Laurel Park has grown unfettered by the regulations governing most aspects of residential construction -- lot size, sidewalks, road widths, water and sewer lines, drainage and forest preservation.
The community -- approximately 170 acres across from the Patuxent River and downtown Laurel -- is exempt because the county approved the subdivision plan in 1898, long before the modern regulations became law.
The result was approximately a thousand lots, each about 50-by-150 feet, that have developed in uneven bursts throughout the century.
The community's 600 homes are varied, with many presenting an attractive, well-maintained image in contrast to the area's primitive roadside drainage ditches where sidewalks would usually be placed.
Residents say that the drainage ditches were adequate until recent construction replaced forested areas with new homes. Without sufficient soil and tree roots to absorb rainwater, it collects in the streets and flows toward homes close to the Patuxent River.
"People put out their trash and recyclables, and they literally float right down the street," said Donna Thewes, a North Laurel Park resident who has two sump pumps and no carpeting in her basement because of the regular flooding.
Thewes is a member of a group that Councilman Dennis R. Schrader, a Republican, created to study issues in the North Laurel-Savage area he represents. The group helped develop the infrastructure plan and a plan to turn 140 of the undeveloped lots into a community park.
Though county officials and community leaders are excited by the plan to build better sidewalks, roads and drainage, the project is dependent on the co-operation of developers and others who own the remaining unbuilt lots.
The community's undeveloped lots have dozens of different owners, some of whom have paid taxes on their properties for decades.
Cornerstone Homes, the most-active developer in North Laurel Park, is seeking approval to build 60 or 70 more homes there. The company does not plan to take advantage of the county's new infrastructure option.
Brian D. Boy, Cornerstone president, said the cost of the county infrastructure program would add to his construction costs, but by how much is unknown. Though he is not planning to use the infrastructure option for his current project, he said he might for future projects.
"It's yet to be seen how many willing participants are out there," Boy said of the program, adding, "I will have to look at what's finally approved and see whether it makes sense for me."
Cornerstone is working with the county to perhaps build a storm water drainage system near some of the company's new homes on Sewall Avenue, with the company and the county sharing the cost. That project may help ease some of the area's drainage problems, said McLaughlin.
In the meantime, North Laurel Park residents continue to face flooding with almost any heavy rain.
"When I moved here, we didn't have the drainage problems we have today," said Thewes, a nine-year resident. "It's gotten worse and worse and worse and worse."
Pub Date: 1/24/97