Suburban sprawl viewed as a threat Residents fear plans for mixed-use sites


Forty years ago, Hilda Weber had no fears when her four small children played in the front yard of her Fulton home off Scaggsville Road.

Now, she says, even adults can't walk across the two-lane road -- more popularly known these days as Route 216 -- to get her mail without worrying about getting hit by a speeding car.

"There's too much traffic here," said the 68-year-old grandmother of 10. "It used to be a lot of country. Now it's just houses here and houses there. I don't like it."

Weber is one of many Fulton residents who are beginning to worry that the rural beauty of the area where they established homes and raised children will be wiped out by suburban sprawl.

Three luxury subdivisions are under construction, and a fourth is under consideration by the county.

Though those represent fewer than 100 homes in a community that has about 550 houses, there are plans to build a 2,000-unit, mixed-use development on 700 acres of farmland.

Even if that development never gets county approval, residents are pessimistic about preserving the area's rural charm -- especially with two other mixed-use sites proposed for the southeastern corner of Howard working their way through the county zoning process.

"If they [all] go forward, we'll have three mixed-use centers within a five-mile boundary of this community," said Peter J. Oswald, president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association in Fulton. "That poses a potentially adverse effect for this area."

Fulton -- one of Howard's smallest villages -- began in the 1800s as a crossroads community to provide services to farmers. Since then, people have flocked to Fulton from Baltimore and Washington, lured by tranquillity and beauty.

Country atmosphere

"I liked the rural area," said David Manges, who moved from a farm in Pennsylvania to his home off Route 216 in Fulton 31 years ago. "I like the country atmosphere."

Debbie Blomme moved to Beaufort Park to get away from what she called the suffocating lifestyle of Columbia.

"In Columbia, we had a little postage stamp-sized lot," the three-year resident recalled. "The children had no place to play, and we lived next to a busy road. " Most of the residents agree that their idyllic lifestyle could be ruined by development.

Williamsburg Builders has sold 11 of 15 new single-family houses on a 37-acre site called Brookwood Farms, which is off Lime Kiln Road.

Next month, Jamestown Builders plans to open Fulton Manor, a 35-house neighborhood on Pleasant View Drive.

Construction began in December on an 18-custom-built-house community called Eastern View at the intersection of Johns Hopkins and Pindell School roads.

And the county Department of Planning and Zoning has given Winchester Homes preliminary approval to build a 21-house community near Lime Kiln Road and Route 216.

But the primary concern for many homeowners is the proposed mixed-use community off U.S. 29, from Johns Hopkins Road south to Route 216. The Iager family, which owns Maple Lawn Farms, is the owner of the largest of the five parcels that make up the site.

Other projects

Although no plans for the Iager tract have been submitted for county review, there are two other nearby developments that many Fulton residents think are harbingers of the future of their area.

The county Planning Board last week recommended approval of a preliminary development plan for a 1,410-residence, Columbia-style village on a 522-acre site in North Laurel that straddles Interstate 95 south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216.

Cherrytree Park, which calls for 252 housing units on 42.5 acres at the southeast corner of U.S. 29 and Route 216 -- still waiting for approval -- could be developed as early as 1999.

"When we moved here, you might have seen 15 to 20 cars going up and down the road for the entire day," said John Wilkerson, 75, who has lived off Route 216 since 1952.

Added his 72-year-old wife, Peggy: "Now you wait 15 minutes to cross the road to get the mail."

"We're going to have traffic problems and crowded schools," Oswald said. "That's when there is going to be a noticeable deterioration of life as we know it."

But county officials argue that the Iager property has been zoned for mixed use since the 1990 General Plan, which also calls for running public water and sewer lines to the site. State highway officials are also planning improvements to U.S. 29 and Route 216.

The county's position is that growth is inevitable and that a mixed-use community will ensure that it is contained in an area capable of accommodating it.

"Doing it in a location that has water and sewer and planned transportation improvements makes a lot of sense to us," said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning. "It's one of the most rational and attractive ways of accommodating development in Howard County."

Developers credit the county with trying to limit rampant growth.

Some limits

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