Officials try keeping past for the future Village designations might lead to funding, but some remain wary

'Much ado about nothing'

Officials say aim is to spare rural land from development

June 07, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

After rummaging through Carroll's history for nearly a year, county officials have put boundaries around 35 rural settings, hoping to take advantage of a little known aspect of the governor's Smart Growth initiative -- the revitalization of rural villages.

The payoff for identifying the settings as rural villages is a literal one. Neighborhoods with a Rural Village designation could become eligible for state funding should a need arise.

To qualify, the villages had to be identified and included in the master plan to guide the county's growth by June 30.

County planners, armed with maps, aerial photographs, Health Department records and field reports, identified the 35 sites, many with deep historical roots, as rural villages. The County Commissioners put them in the county master plan.

Sites had to be older communities, primarily residential, and be in agricultural zones that had "a high potential for water and sewer problems" because of aging wells and septic systems.

Beauty and charm were not among the criteria.

The county's designated villages include the occasional gem such as Uniontown, but several, such as Watersville, have lost their luster. Others seem invisible to the untrained eye, such as Bark Hill, where, apart from the Bark Hill Bible Church, there appears to be no village.

Residents in many of the villages are mystified. They don't know why their homes are being called rural villages. They say they don't need government money and are skeptical about strings that might be attached.

Lifelong Feesersburg resident Louise Broadwater, 82, wonders why her bend-in-the-road community of "eight houses, maybe 10" was designated.

"I can't see the advantages," she says. "If we got state money, what would we do with it? It's much ado about nothing. I fail to see the point of it."

The point, says county planning director Philip J. Rovang, is "neighborhood conservation."

Carroll is looking to keep a third of its landscape from being developed, and Rovang sees the preservation of rural villages as furthering that goal.

"People forget that the name of the program is Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation," Rovang says. "That's the impetus. We're trying to help preserve these neighborhoods should the need arise.

"It's like a life insurance policy that you hope you never have to cash in. If nothing bad happens, [the designation] is likely to have no impact at all. But if a really important health, safety or quality-of-life issue arose, we would have at least designated these areas as rural villages before the June 30 deadline to make them eligible through the county for state funds."

Signs suggested

A drive through the newly designated rural villages reveals that one size does not fit all. The locations are so varied, so nondescript in some instances, that the County Commissioners may put signs at each, telling passers-by they are entering or leaving a rural village. Sometimes the only indication that one exists is a change in the speed limit (if it does).

Some, like Uniontown, have a storied place in Carroll history and attract tourists.

Uniontown residents realized years ago that they live in the kind of Currier and Ives setting that many tourists find irresistible.

The village has been luring visitors to its biennial Christmas tour of homes for years. Even in summer, a drive past the stately, 19th-century brick homes that line the tree-covered Main Street is worth the trip.

Those who stop will find that for $5, they can get a haircut from Mel Fritz while sitting in a 117-year-old St. Louis barber chair in his basement. Later, his wife, Dorothy, a lifelong resident, might lead visitors through the garden that she celebrates in one of her devotional poems.

Together, they could share reminiscences of an earlier time -- when residents used to cut ice from the town pond in the winter, take it to an ice house and in the summer "make the best ice cream ever tasted" in Carroll County.

They'll tell you how the pond became silted and was unable to provide the water needed to put out a 1976 fire that destroyed the church and parsonage where Dorothy Fritz's father had been pastor for 39 1/2 years. They also might give you a tour of the old Uniontown Academy, a one-room schoolhouse now used as the town hall. Reminiscences such as theirs are the heart of rural village life.

Watersville is a different story. The few aging buildings and homes near the train tracks at the Carroll-Howard County border could easily be overlooked..

Once a thriving railroad village, Watersville today is virtually impossible to identify. One of its features is an abandoned 19th-century country store. It was boarded up 11 years ago. Rotting tires and rusting boilers from an abandoned canning factory sit nearby.

Chat with longtime resident William Frizzell and he'll show you where, 65 years ago, railroad workers and canners played pTC baseball on three diamonds. The buildings are in decay and the diamonds are now woodland.

Residents with stories to tell

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