Peace and progress forge a friendship Gambrills is glad to save open spaces whenever possible

Neighborhood Profile: Gambrills

December 07, 1997|By Bonita Formwalt | Bonita Formwalt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cows in the fields of the Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills graze lazily, unconcerned about the challenges faced by neighbors seeking to preserve the area's rural tranquillity at a time when continuing development appears inevitable.

Located in northwestern Anne Arundel County, Gambrills has a rich farming history. The fertile land supported tobacco and dairy farmers for generations, its products sent to market via the railroad.

Now large expanses of farmland are being sold for housing developments and shopping centers to support the greater number of families moving in search of open spaces.

Lawrence and Charlotte Tuck have lived and worked in Gambrills all their lives. Charlotte operates a day-care center in the house where she was born. Lawrence is an independent building utility contractor.

Realizing that development is inevitable, both remember fondly the rural lifestyle of their youth.

Lawrence recalls a youth spent horseback riding, with bonfires in the back yard and his dog free to chase the deer in the neighboring woods.

Exploring the area around the 865-acre Academy Dairy farm occupied many boyhood summers.

"The Army used to drop tanks, jeeps and parachuters on the dairy farm," Lawrence said. "That was a big thing in the early '50s, dropping the war machines and playing war games on the ground."

The farm is still used for an occasional drop, but jumps are made from helicopters that fly closer to the ground, avoiding the many new homes in the area, he noted.

Today, bonfires draw the attention of the local fire department, alerted by concerned neighbors. The deer are infrequent visitors even though the dog no longer runs free.

The suburbanization of the area began in 1972 when the Four Seasons Estates development broke ground. Development continued in spurts. The population grew 19.3 percent between the 1980 and 1990 censuses.

"People come here from the city and think this is the country," Charlotte Tuck said.

"I had the country when it was a dirt road and a two miles walk to the store in bare feet," she said with a wry laugh.

Now with easy access to Route 3 to the east and Interstate 97 to the north, residents are never more than 10 minutes from suburban shopping and entertainment in neighboring Odenton or Crofton.

According to Pat Worthington, an agent for O'Conor Piper and Flynn, the beautiful open spaces of the community, coupled with the accessibility to so many employers, makes Gambrills quite attractive to buyers.

"It's an easy commute to Baltimore, D.C., Westinghouse, NSA; it's in the middle of a lot of places," Worthington said.

Location was one reason William Sabia and his wife, Lisa, moved to Four Seasons Estates.

Preparing to purchase their first home, they wanted to live in Anne Arundel County, close to William's job with the Department of Defense at offices adjacent to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Ten years and two daughters later, they are ardent fans of the community.

"We really love the area; the schools are great and the community is so close-knit," William said.

The community manages to meet the needs of a growing family. Lisa can walk to her job as a substitute teacher at Four Seasons Elementary School, where daughters Allyson, 9, and Danielle, 6, attend.

As do many parents of young children, the Sabias often devote their evenings and weekends to their children's activities.

William is president of the Gambrills-Odenton Recreation Council, where both girls play several sports.

With basketball season in full swing, William finds himself coaching daughter Allyson's basketball team two nights a week at Arundel Middle School.

L But there's always room for a little improvement, of course.

"There are not a lot of restaurant choices," William said tongue-in-cheek.

While dining may currently be limited to the Dairy Queen two miles down Route 175, the Sabias can look forward to new dining choices in the future. The Village at Waugh Chapel, a retail and housing development at Route 3 and Waugh Chapel Road, is scheduled to break ground in January.

Such developments -- carefully planned and infrequent -- are the goal of community activists and environmentalists.

But occasionally it takes an act of Congress and 300 cows to deliver a message.

Long a neighborhood landmark, the Academy Dairy farm was facing a bleak future. Opened in 1911 to ensure a safe supply of milk for midshipmen, the dairy had become a financial drain on the Naval Academy's budget.

The academy wanted out of the dairy business.

Fear over how the land would be used if the farm closed galvanized the community. The thought of this local landmark becoming home to a shopping mall elicited strong community reaction.

And someone listened.

Last month, Congress enacted legislation that would allow the academy to cease its role in milk production while guaranteeing that the land would remain open space. Signed by President Clinton, the law requires the farm to retain its "rural and agricultural state."

Options include a private dairy operation, an agricultural research center or a public recreation facility with ball fields, hiking and biking trails, swimming and stables.

Gambrills

Population: 10,198 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes.

Public schools: Four Seasons Elementary, Waugh Chapel Elementary, Arundel Middle, Arundel High.

Shopping: Odenton Shopping Center.

Zip code: 21054

Average Price of single-family home: $200,489*

*Based on 65 sales in past 12 months by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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