Little relief from growing pains forecast Baltimore region projected to gain 338,000 people by 2020

'Another Sprawl-mart'

More congested roads, crowded schools expected in counties

November 16, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Edward Lee contributed to this article.

Baltimore's suburbs, already struggling with growth pains from sprawl, can expect little relief for the next two decades.

The region's counties will add about 338,000 residents by 2020, according to a new forecast -- a trend likely to worsen congested roads and crowded schools.

And despite efforts to halt the spread of development, most of the growth is expected to follow a familiar pattern: a migration from the city and older Beltway communities to new subdivisions in Owings Mills, Abingdon, Bel Air, Crofton and Laurel. That trend has led some suburbanites to label the area "Sprawl-mart."

From 1995 to 2020, the population for the region -- Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties -- will grow 13 percent to 2.7 million, according to the forecast by local planners working with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and the state planning office. The council is a planning agency that represents the city and five counties.

But some counties will grow much faster -- Carroll County's population will increase by 43 percent, Howard's by 38 percent and Harford's by 27 percent, according to the forecast.

Though most of this growth will occur in areas the counties have identified as locations for growth, local governments can barely keep up. New schools are crowded on the day they open, storm-water ponds and median strips are counted as open space, and recreation programs turn children away because there aren't enough ball fields.

"If you think we're this desperate now, you can only see what it will be like in five years or 10 years, much less 15 or 20," said Nila Martin of Abingdon.

Martin and her family moved from Parkville seven years ago because new houses were more affordable in Harford County than in Baltimore County. A real estate agent showed them nearby pastures, told them of schools about to be built and bragged about uncongested roads.

Now, many of those fields have turned into subdivisions. The promised middle and high schools have not been built, and district boundaries for the new elementary school changed, excluding the Martins' house. Traffic has become so bad on the street behind her home that Martin is afraid to let her children play in the back yard.

Martin misses the small-town atmosphere she knew in Parkville. "There is no sense of community here. Wal-Mart is the place where you meet people."

Although Gov. Parris N. Glendening and a number of local governments are trying to halt suburban sprawl and revitalize older neighborhoods, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's forecast does not reflect those efforts.

The hottest growth area, in terms of people and households, is Harford's Edgewood-Joppa area, which is expected to gain 24,200 people and 13,100 households by 2020. The numbers only support what Jan Stinchcomb already knows.

"We're grappling with trying to keep up with services," said Stinchcomb, chairwoman of the Abingdon-Emmorton-Riverside Community Planning Council.

People who have moved from the city and older Baltimore County neighborhoods are disappointed when dreams of rural tranquillity clash with the reality of suburban congestion, she said.

"Suddenly it's just another 'Sprawl-mart,' " she said. "A lot of people lose heart."

Spurred by stronger than expected house sales in the Owings Mills area, the planners predict Baltimore County's population will increase 9 percent by 2020.

Michael Franklin has seen a drastic change since moving to the northwest area four years ago. "When I moved out there, it was a lot more open space," he said.

He left the city to find better schools for his two children, but their classrooms at Deer Park Elementary School have become increasingly crowded.

To handle all the students, the lunch period runs from 10: 54 a.m. to 1: 48 p.m., and portable classrooms dot the schoolyard. Franklin still believes the school is great, but he wonders when crowding will take its toll.

Although a 100-seat addition is planned and a school is being built in Owings Mills New Town to relieve the congestion, Franklin worries those moves won't be enough.

"We have a lot of new construction and a lot of turnover in existing homes," said Franklin.

Planners predict the greatest rate of household growth will be in Howard County, with a 51 percent increase from 1995 to 2020. Local representatives on the forecast group assumed that the county will consume its buildable land between 2010 and 2015 and then avert future growth pressures.

But officials, residents and conservation experts still worry about the loss of farmland in the western portion of the county.

Since 1978, development rights to 16,494 acres of farmland have been purchased by the county's preservation program. But about 35,000 new residents are expected in the western area, and they could destroy the natural setting that attracted them.

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