Growth goes west, shifts rural life Influx of newcomers spreads urban culture to West End farmland

Learning to coexist

Longtime residents, new neighbors share many of same values

May 24, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Driving down narrow roads bracketed by woods and farm fields, by houses with trim lawns and two-car garages, Charles C. Feaga pulled onto Frederick Road near Glenwood and headed west.

He eased his Chevrolet onto the shoulder a mile past Route 97, stopping at a weathered mile-marker that guided travelers west from Baltimore in the days before concrete and automobiles.

Feaga, a 65-year-old farmer and Howard County councilman, says these stone markers once could be found all along Frederick Road.

Though several remain, many have vanished -- like parts of bucolic western Howard he cherished decades ago.

"They used to be all over," said Feaga, rubbing the stone, feeling for its inscription. "They've just disappeared, kind of sad. Development and vandals, I guess."

It's a familiar story around Baltimore -- development encroaching on rural landscapes. More cars clogging roads, more "McMansions" growing in old cornfields, more strip malls and convenience stores.

Yet western Howard is weathering change well, many newcomers and longtime residents agree.

Zoning controls on housing density and an agricultural land-preservation program limit growth here. Silos and barns stand on knolls, resisting the westward creep of suburbia.

Though population is expected to more than double, to roughly 63,000, by 2015, when planners say building will end, it will not resemble Columbia.

While longtime residents lament the rush-hour traffic on Routes 97 and 32 and outbreaks of development, their new neighbors share many of the old values.

Enticed by the twisting roads and red barns and cows waddling across green fields, they bought big houses with 3-, 4- or 5-acre lots. They enjoy the woods and creeks, too, but desire more: better schools and better services, including a grocery store or two.

Many now want to raise the drawbridge. Residents have packed meetings to fight a 116-unit condominium complex, the Villas of Cattail Creek in Glenwood, and a planned 98-house project in Dayton.

Bob Buckler is typical of many who have moved to the area. He came 10 years ago to escape growing Montgomery County for better schools, a larger yard with trees and bushes.

A self-employed home designer and homemaker, Buckler sought community centered on children, with parents active in school plays and soccer leagues. He became president of his local homeowners association.

He says things have changed since he arrived. "It's a different kind of person moving out here now," he said. "They're wealthier and both parents work. It's becoming more of a suburb than the rural nature it was."

For all the changes, said Buckler, "I still can't imagine living anywhere better than this."

Selling out

Though areas such as Clarksville are increasingly suburban, west of Route 32 remains mostly farm country. Some longtime residents, who fondly recall when the Columbia area resembled the West End, are encouraging growth themselves.

Martha Clark, 52, used to raise dairy cows but recently sold the herd. Though she loves looking out her bay window toward the Patuxent River valley's trees and grassy slopes, she is pondering the sale of about 130 acres for a housing development.

"For years we've known it was coming, and anyone who didn't was naive," she said. "We have people saying they want rural. But if they really wanted rural, they wouldn't move here. In real rural-like places, you have to drive three hours to find an average-size city."

That residents are seeking a country atmosphere without the country hassles isn't unusual. Even fourth-generation farmers say growth isn't all bad.

"Well, a lot has changed, a lot of development," said farmer Steve Cissel of Lisbon. "Still a lot of farmers, rural feel. But now you can visit a grocery store in 20 minutes, not 40."

At the Country Corner restaurant-deli-convenience store in Lisbon, farmers and natives complain over turkey sandwiches and hamburgers about new voices of power emerging -- the PTAs.

At school plays and soccer fields, parents complain about too much traffic in front of schools.

Those conversations show a slow shift in influence, away from country-types to more suburban-minded mothers and fathers. But many farmers, including David Patrick, believe the rules restricting growth will help preserve their way of life.

One morning before sunrise, Patrick began milking 175 muddycows. They clopped, tails swaying, 16 at a time into narrow metal stalls. There, Patrick and two helpers swabbed the udders with iodine and attached suction cups to vacuum milk into a large tank.

It's hard for Patrick to imagine western Howard as anything but a farming community. His 250 acres are preserved, thanks to a county-sponsored program that has bought the development rights to about 17,000 acres, including most of his neighbors' land. But he still worries a little.

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