South of U.S. 50 in Anne Arundel County, the vestiges of suburban sprawl disappear and farmland rolls on for miles.
That's the way Virginia P. Clagett likes it and the way she wants to keep it.
Maneuvering her Subaru wagon down the dirt road to her farmhouse, the third-year Democratic state delegate from the 30th District sees how her legislative efforts have preserved the pastoral south county over the past 16 years.
She is proud of her work yet feels frustrated because it is again under siege -- this time not by farmers holding "tractorcades" against her but by other old foes: developers and the county.
Clagett, other south county residents and planners know that development, resulting from an anticipated influx of Washington and Baltimore commuters, is inevitable.
The controversy is about where and when it can occur.
"It's going to be a fight always," said Clagett, 54. "The threat is from natural causes, meaning demographics."
Between now and the fall, Anne Arundel County planners are working on the General Development Plan, a blueprint for growth over the next 20 years. Review and revision of the plan occurs every decade.
For now, Clagett's so-called Farm Bill, which she wrote in 1981 as a county councilwoman and which limits building to one house per 20 acres, is still the law.
But many longtime supporters and even some former opponents of the bill are afraid the General Development Plan will change the protective zoning for which Clagett fought so hard.
'Adamant in preserving'
"For some reason, people down there feel a threat by the policy," said Richard Josephson, the county's chief of long-range planning.
"I think that the county feels that everything goes, but what we've tried to reinforce with our discussions with the groups and in the county is that everything doesn't go," Josephson said. "We are adamant in preserving."
Josephson, who has worked on the planning staff for the past 11 years, contends that the revised plan aims to preserve rural areas by concentrating growth on land that has been designated as suitable for development but isn't fully developed.
Plenty of such places exist in the county, Josephson said: areas around the Cromwell, Ferndale and North Linthicum light rail stations; sections around the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Dorsey, Jessup and Savage commuter rail stations; and the town centers of Glen Burnie, Odenton and Parole.
25 years of growth
"We think we've got enough of this land to keep us going for the next 25 years at least," he said.
The county believes the "most appropriate pattern of growth is in a more compact fashion" where public facilities such as police, water, sewers, roads and schools already exist.
Clagett has the same general idea -- to deflect growth away from peninsulas such as those in Broadneck, Mayo and Shady Side.
"I would try whatever way I could to preserve remaining farmland," Clagett said. "Growth should be slated for the western part of the county, in places like Odenton. That is where a great deal of the influx is coming."
As a state delegate, Clagett serves on the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee. It is the first time since 1974 that the former County Council member has not had a direct hand in shaping the county's zoning.
She now speaks her views from the House floor and at meetings held by such preservation organizations as the 30-member South County Coalition, to which she belongs.
Clagett thinks county planners have good enough intentions but notes that these alone won't prevent development in fragile places.
"Maybe it's a question of communication, but I don't think that that's all it is," Clagett said. "I'm not in on the inner sanctum here, but I think they're losing sight of how important agriculture is in this county.
"It hasn't been perfect, but I think we have to emphasize that it will be a struggle to keep what we have," she said. "If you save the land, you save so much more -- the waterways, the historical significance. It's a triple whammy."
First campaign slogan
Her feelings go back to her first campaign slogan in 1974: "Let's Control Our County's Growth Before It Controls Us!"
Now, as then, Clagett and others are worried. Josephson said planners sense residents' unrest and want to allay their concerns.
"I think the fear that people have is that this is going to happen tomorrow, and that everything is going to be changed," Josephson said. "If they took time to read the plan, they'd see they're all long-term changes. Some of these things might never occur."
Clagett hopes they won't.
Her foresight in preserving the area is related, but not limited, to her interest in saving her own gentrified farm life.
She first felt a sense of urgency nearly 20 years ago when she learned the owners of two 800-acre farms in Harwood wanted to sell to developers.
It was then that she said she saw with "devastating clarity" what was going to happen if she did not introduce preventive legislation, she said.