Pastoral town foresees changes Quiet community's residents reluctant to let go of rural ways

August 02, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Debra Blomme moved from Columbia to Fulton nearly four years ago to get away from congestion, noise and constant interference from neighbors who wanted to keep her from putting up a fence in her own back yard.

Life in Fulton turned out to be almost idyllic, Blomme says. Good schools, nice neighbors and lots of space. A perfect place to raise your children. Light-years from suburban sprawl.

"Most people don't even know that this jewel exists out here," says the 34-year-old mother of three. "It's been like living in a Norman Rockwell community."

But Norman Rockwell is about to meet the architects and bulldozers of development. Three major projects in various stages of approval will accelerate the change that has taken place in the southern Howard County community for the last two decades.

One project, the Iager farm proposal between Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road, would create 1,168 homes around Fulton, where today there are just 650 to 700 households.

Combined with two other nearby developments -- one in North Laurel, the other in Scaggsville -- 2,500 new homes and an undetermined number of businesses would be built in the area in the next few years.

Even now, Blomme says, she often sees people driving down Route 216 looking for plots of land on which to build their own rural dream.

"Every time we see that," says Blomme, "we're like, 'Oh, great, now everyone's going to come here.' It's almost like it was too good to last. And no one is happy about that."

A quiet place to live

Families like Blomme's were drawn to Fulton for its picturesque small-town life -- the slow, easy pace, the solid sense of community and near absence of crime.

Dairy farms and wheat fields stretch over rolling hills occasionally interrupted by small subdivisions. For close-by shopping, residents have the stores at Fulton Station at Route 216 and Lime Kiln Road.

There is no liquor store there now, but there soon will be one in Fulton Station, over the objections of some residents who felt the convenience was outweighed by the possibility the business would attract loiterers and trash.

"We'd rather drive than have to live with it here," said Peter J. Oswald, former president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association, which has contested the Iager farm proposal.

Many residents simply want to keep Fulton as it is.

"We moved out here to get away from everything," says Donna Wade, who has lived in nearby Highland for 19 years and has persuaded most of her family to move to the area from Prince George's County. "We don't want all of these people to ruin it. We want it to stay the way it is."

Established in the 1800s, Fulton began as a farmers' community. Over the years, its population increased slowly, attracting commuters from Baltimore and Washington who were lured by the beauty of the farmland and the quiet way of life.

Joni Pitton, a 20-year Fulton resident, says enough newcomers have moved into Fulton to make her think about moving -- perhaps to rural North or South Carolina.

"People move out here for a reason, and those reasons are going away," she says. "Now cars fly up and down the road, and I'm scared to let the dog out of the house."

"There's an awful lot of new people who've moved here within the last 15 years or so," says John Wilkerson, who's been living in Fulton since 1929 and has lived off Route 216 since 1952. "It's funny to me now because they came out here to get away from stuff like this.

"They call it 'progress' and you can't stop progress -- unless you've got more money than the developer's got."

But Oswald says the change over the past 15 years is "not symbolic of the change that we'll see when these big developments come to the area."

"It's going to be a very disruptive change, and people who live here now know that," he says.

New businesses

In addition to the homes, there will be new businesses, bringing more traffic to once-quiet roads.

The Iager farm proposal, on which county authorities won't take final action until winter, would include a village center focal point, featuring 1.1 million square feet of commercial space. Also proposed are 177 acres of open space.

That would effectively turn Fulton into a town not unlike Columbia, developed more than three decades ago.

Oswald believes Fulton residents will experience a noticeable change in their quality of life once construction begins. There may be environmental concerns. Local roads will be strained. Schools may be crowded.

"We live in a very nice community and we've picked a very nice place to raise our families," he says. "We don't want to see that change in a dramatic way."

Oswald says some of what current residents are dealing with is "that we want to resist some of the change, yet we're also part of the problem. We're trying to preserve what we moved into the area for."

But longtime Fulton resident Judy Iager, wife of one of the brothers who are selling much of their farmland to the developer, says it's only a small but vocal cadre of disgruntled naysayers who object to the project.

"There are only a few people who are opposed to almost everything that goes on out here," Iager said. "Most people are ready for change. It's this group of people who think that everything new sounds terrible until they start hearing about all the good things that may be built, like a health club or bike paths to the schools."

Blomme says residents would be more amenable to development if it included "a big, nice golf course or an athletic center that would go along with the atmosphere that's already here."

"I try to be realistic," she adds. "There's always going to be change. I'd just rather it be subtle rather than drastic."

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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