Care must be taken now to avoid overdevelopment


March 22, 1998|By HAROLD JACKSON

THERE ARE LOTS of open spaces in Howard County. But unlike some pristine areas in the South or West, you really don't have to travel far to find development. That's to be expected in a place that serves as suburb to both Baltimore and Washington.

A relative newcomer, I was surprised that so much of the development is recent, that is having occurred within the past 20 years. No one has to tell you that. You see it in the number of wild animals that still try to call Howard home -- like the deer I saw break its neck while unsuccessfully trying to jump a schoolyard fence.

But those parts of the county only now being considered for new development can hardly be called virgin territory. Despite road signs warning motorists to watch not only for deer but the occasional horse rider, there's not much rural about the land.

Take, for example, Maple Lawn Farms in Fulton, where Baltimore developer Greenebaum & Rose wants to build 1,300 houses, townhouses and condominiums as well as a million square feet of office and retail space.

The 506 acres this project would occupy can be found about two miles from the junction of U.S. 29 and Route 216, a short distance from a park-and-ride lot, a couple of mini-shopping centers, dozens of homes, some county buildings and Fulton Elementary.

Bucolic it's not, at least not when you're looking at it from Scaggsville Road.

But the magnitude of the Greene-baum & Rose project would greatly change that community. The population density would swell, the number of cars on the road would rise. Already the Board of Education is planning a new middle school and high school for Fulton.

Other development is planned for that same western end of the county, including a Rouse Co. project that may put 1,400 new homes and commercial real estate north of Laurel. Then there's the smaller Big Branch Overlook project that proposes building 127 homes on 238 acres near Triadelphia Reservoir.

People who moved to Howard County to get away from the congested roads, crowded schools and fast pace of the cities are apprehensive about having so many of the friends and neighbors they left behind follow the path they blazed.

Longtime residents who have seen their farmland and woods diminish wonder where it is all going to end, and which of them will be left when it does.

Wither Boarman's Meats?

A store has stood where Routes 216 and 108 converge in Howard County for more than 100 years. The last 44, that store has been Boarman's Meat Market, famous for its homemade sausage. Boarman's is a general store of another age trying to stave off extinction at the hands of the gleaming new Giant supermarket that entices customers to its lair in nearby Clarksville.

Boarman's survives by offering everything from T-shirts to fine liquor and wine, from birdseed to filet mignon. It even has a cash machine. George Boarman says he counts on the loyalty of regular customers, but he knows that as new residents move in and old ones move out, his store may struggle.

That doesn't bother him as much as what might be left in Howard County if his store and other reminders of what used to be cease to exist. Already postage-stamp-sized cemeteries and quaint churches like Mount Zion Methodist seem out of place within a stone's throw of the huge castles being built in expensive subdivisions such as Fulton Estates.

The best that Mr. Boarman and others like him can hope is not that development stops, but that it occurs on a reasonable scale. Officials who pay lip service to "smart growth" but thirst for the revenue that commercial and residential development can provide need to take a breather.

With the economy booming and interest rates low, developers are taking out of mothballs projects they envisioned long ago but were afraid to propose in a recession. There is money to be made and Howard government wants a piece of the action. It needs a share to pay for the schools and expanded public services that will be required to accommodate its new residents.

Developed into oblivion

Care must be taken, though, lest builders and officials develop into oblivion the very characteristics of Howard County that have made it such an attractive place to live. When the roads become too crowded, the air and water too polluted, and civility falls victim to the stress of trying to get from here to there, many of those pushing now to live in Howard will look elsewhere.

Just as they left Baltimore and Washington, they will leave those cities' suburbs for "a better life" elsewhere. If that happens in Howard, people will one day look back at what they had and ask why they foolishly let it slip away. It's not too late to say enough is enough, to be firmer about the amount of development that should occur.

That doesn't mean current plans must be shelved. It means a more critical eye ought to be focused on proposals for the future.

Harold Jackson is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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