'A lot of diversity' and affordability, too Abingdon's growth has eased somewhat from torrid pace

Neighborhood profile: Abingdon

November 23, 1997|By Bob Graham | Bob Graham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When it opened in 1808, John Clay McComas' funeral home was at the center of Abingdon, one of Harford County's oldest and busiest towns. Back then, Abingdon was about a 66-lot area centered at what is now the intersection of Route 7 and Abingdon Road.

Today, the funeral home (now called the Howard K. McComas Funeral Home) remains at the same location, but the nearby firehouse and post office have moved -- along with the population and business -- to much larger buildings about a mile west at what is now the center of Abingdon.

From the new center, at the intersection of Route 924 (Emmorton Road) and Abingdon Road, Abingdon appears to be a hodgepodge of condominiums and apartments, vinyl-sided townhouses and single-family homes in subdivisions with such names as Constant Friendship, Box Hill North, Box Hill South, Bynum Overlook, Bynum Run and Laurel Valley. Fifteen years ago, none of these names was on maps or on people's lips.

Now these names are even more widely recognized than the name Abingdon, taken from an agricultural community in Berkshire, England.

Most of the agriculture in Maryland's Abingdon today is at the Weis Market or the Santoni's, both popular and busy grocery stores for area residents.

With quick access to Interstate 95, Abingdon is a convenient bedroom community for Baltimore, Annapolis, Wilmington, Del., and Washington. Planners realized this and have concentrated growth in Abingdon since the early 1980s.

Today, Abingdon includes the half-mile square around the McComas funeral home as it did at its founding in 1779, as well as an area encompassing Wheel Road on the west, Winters Run to the south, U.S. 40 to the east and Route 136 to the north.

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Abingdon was a center of industry, boasting several silversmiths, the first silk hat factory in America, three cabinetmaking businesses and the McComas funeral home.

Now, Abingdon boasts some of the most intense growth in the Baltimore area during the last 15 years. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Abingdon was the third largest homebuilding market in the Baltimore region, but that growth has slowed.

The result is all the trappings of growth. Streets are crowded at rush hour. Abingdon Elementary School is crowded with students spilling into two of the county's 49 portable classrooms even though the school is just 5 years old. Anticipating even more students for the 600-student school, county school officials have given preliminary approval for an addition to hold 250 students, pending funding from the county and state.

A Wal-Mart and Regal Cinemas -- a 14-screen megaplex that opened in April -- occupy land near I-95 and Route 24 where a proposal for an outlet mall was defeated a few years ago.

Wherever you go, people talk about growth in Abingdon and how it should be slowed or stopped. A frequent sentiment is that the county should close the same path from Baltimore and northern and eastern Baltimore County so others cannot further crowd the growing community.

"It's built up too fast; it wasn't well-planned when they were deciding how to build it up," said Patti Jones, a teller at HARCO Federal Credit Union on Route 924.

For the last 11 years, she, her husband, Rick, a German teacher at Fallston High School, and two children, Brandon, 13, and Amanda, 12, have lived in a three-bedroom townhouse in the Laurel Valley community. The couple moved into their house, which cost about $69,000, because of its proximity to Fallston High School and because of the affordability of housing in the area.

Their children's school, Bel Air Middle, challenges them, and, although the number of cars whizzing along Route 924 near their house is dizzying, the growth doesn't seriously affect them on a daily basis. In the 11 years they have owned it, their house has increased in value to at least $87,000, Patti Jones estimated.

Difficulty selling

However, the Joneses, like others who bought houses when Harford County was growing so quickly, might have difficulty selling. Existing housing, especially townhouses, in the Abingdon area take longer to sell because most people moving into the area prefer a new house, where they can choose their options and often pay the same price, and, in some cases, even less for it.

Another concern, say some real estate agents and property owners, is that many buyers spent more than they should have when they bought their houses in Abingdon between 1985 and 1995 because they were so impressed with the affordability compared with Baltimore and Baltimore County housing.

As a result, people who bought townhouses as starter homes and now have families have trouble moving into larger housing without taking a loss. But even with the loss, residents of Abingdon still find prices more attractive than in areas closer to Baltimore.

"People can get a lot for their money in Abingdon," said Ruth Tipton, who has lived for 28 years on Long Bar Harbor, a community on the Bush River at the eastern edge of Abingdon.

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