Residents laud 'town of character' Some say it's first in county to excel in business-homes mix

October 04, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Long derided as a blue-collar community that was home to trucks and warehouses, Elkridge is drawing recognition as an important cog in the economic engine that drives Howard County, one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the country.

And with the impending development of a few corporate centers and proliferation of new upscale houses, area homeowners say Elkridge -- not its much-publicized cousin, Columbia -- is the county's first community to manage a healthy mix of businesses and homes.

All in all, community leaders are delighted with the area they call home.

"We have a diverse population, a strong sense of identity and a strong history," says Kevin Doyle, vice president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association. "That blend is something that Elkridge takes pride in. It's a town of character."

Whether that character will endure is a matter of debate among homeowners, merchants and public officials.

About two dozen proposals for 445 houses and more than 385 acres of business growth exist for the Elkridge area, which is bounded by Route 175 to the south, Anne Arundel County to the east, Baltimore County to the north, and portions of Ilchester, Meadowridge and Waterloo roads to the west.

Almost certainly, Elkridge will continue to balance its business interests with a healthy dose of residential enclaves.

"To me, that's a sign of a maturing community," says Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. "It's a community coming back to a full dimension as a place to work and a place to live."

During the early 1900s, U.S. 1 was a dirt road used by horses and carriages traveling along the East Coast.

As the dirt was covered with asphalt, restaurants, motels and service stations sprung up along the road, symbolizing the roots of Elkridge.

Business interests first shaped the area.

Elkridge's proximity to Interstate 95, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Baltimore-Washington International Airport became -- and continues to be -- a major selling point for developers of commercial properties.

"It's a better location than other areas in terms of its easy access to [Interstate] 95," says Cole Schnorf, senior vice president of development for Manekin Corp. "The quicker trucks can get to 95, the better."

Manekin is banking on the advantage as it signs tenants for its 168.5-acre Troy Hill Corporate Center on the northwest corner of 1 and Route 100.

Projected to generate about 3,000 jobs, Troy Hill has signed three tenants and obtained nonbinding letters of intent from three additional businesses.

Plans for the 193.7-acre Patapsco Valley Business Center on South Hanover Road and the 23.1-acre Baltimore-Washington Commerce Park on U.S. 1 have prompted local economic officials to study how to upgrade warehouses and manufacturing facilities in Elkridge into corporate parks.

"I think everyone recognizes that Elkridge is evolving," Story says. "Over time, we may see truck terminals no longer existing, and those properties will be reutilized under other uses."

As business development has grown, so has the demand for housing for employees. And homes are becoming grander.

"It used to be that Elkridge was considered to be one of the low-end areas," says Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning. "Now, people are marketing $300,000 houses that are comparable to the Ellicott City area or the western county area. That was not the case 15 years ago."

Although half of the 16 proposals making their way through the approvals process involve 10 or fewer houses, the remaining projects would add 409 units to Elkridge.

The largest proposal, a 174-home community on 98.1 acres between Rockburn Branch Park and Trinity Preparatory High School on Landing Road, is generating protests from neighbors.

"We're definitely not for it," Ann MacLellan, who has lived on Landing Road for four years, says of the so-called Grovemont plan. "We're nature lovers, and it seems like [the subdivision] will destroy the beauty here."

But one resident says the development might benefit the neighborhood.

"It might be our opportunity to get hooked up to public water and sewer," says Larry Kessler, who has been on a septic system since he bought his house on Landing Road 12 years ago. "The possibility of upgrading our property values is a plus."

Some homeowners say they can deal with additional houses as long as roads and schools can keep up.

One sticking point among many parents is the absence of a high school for Elkridge teen-agers, who are bused to Howard and Long Reach high schools.

Sandra French, who chaired the school board last year, recalls that in 1993 the board found a site in Elkridge, but the landowner was asking $200,000 an acre. French says the board might have to tackle the problem sooner rather than later.

"It's a formidable problem, and it will continue to be one," she says.

More traffic is a concern as well. But while Brian Wilson doesn't relish more cars speeding past his house on Montgomery Road, the owner of Elkridge Motors says the slow encroachment of growth can't be stopped..

"We're stuck with development," Wilson says. "If a guy has a piece of property and it's zoned residential, who has a right to stand in his way?"

However, Juanita Rutters argues that sellers' neighbors also have rights.

"What's right about putting all those homes back there and changing our neighborhood?" asks Rutters, who, from her house on Downs Avenue, can watch crews build a 69-house subdivision called Williams Knoll at the end of the road.

And then there are residents who stand to profit from growth.

Says Shirley Baker of Old Washington Boulevard, whose bus company is under contract by the county to transport children to local schools: "The more houses, the more business I'll get. That's no problem for me."

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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