The community nobody seems to want to leave


Affordable homes and easy living

August 01, 1999|By Nancy Jones-Bombrest | Nancy Jones-Bombrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Its name comes from the abundant arbutus flowers that once covered this bedroom community in southwest Baltimore County.

Today Arbutus is more famous for its thriving town center than its flowers, an unincorporated community just north of the Howard County border, and southeast of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus.

"It's the greatest community in the state of Maryland," said George Kendrick, who has lived in Arbutus for close to 60 years. "It's not big, it still has that little, old-country-town approach. The people are friendly and a lot of people know one another. Young people get married and come back to the community or live nearby. I know at least a dozen families that moved back here to spend the rest of their lives here."

Kendrick has four children, three of whom still live in Arbutus. Kendrick also is the president of the community's July 4th parade which, he says, attracts close to 25,000 people each year. The turnout is so large, according to Kendrick, because of the generations of families that stay in Arbutus.

"I can walk up to the baseball fields and I see people I remember being fathers and watching their sons play. Now they're watching their grandchildren play on the same fields. That's the kind of community it is."

The neighborhood's bucolic beginnings still have living roots. The Arbutus Oak, a large, white oak that is close to 290 years old, sits on a grassy knoll between the outer loop of Interstate 695 and the exit ramp for northbound Interstate 95. The state Department of Natural Resources maintains the tree.

Arbutus began to gel as a town in 1876 when the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad created a stop to supply goods to the local farmers.

By 1922 about a dozen businesses dotted the community, requiring the county to establish police and fire departments. At the start of World War II, as many as 1,600 families lived there.

In 1952, Arbutus had 150 businesses, 15 major industries and two large apartment complexes. The UMBC campus was built in 1966.

Arbutus is generally bounded by Wilkens Avenue, Rolling Road, Washington Boulevard and the neighborhood of Halethorpe to the south.

The community today is reminiscent of small-town America. Tree-lined streets are dotted with mostly detached Cape Cod and Colonial-style houses. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses sell for $90,000 to $130,000. The neighborhood also has apartments, townhouses and duplex homes.

"I would rate Arbutus as very desirable. A lot of people move there and never want to move out," said Nancy Miller with Re/Max Advantage Realty in Columbia. "In a lot of Baltimore County you don't get much for under $130,000, but there you can.

"Thinking about it, Arbutus is just a small neighborhood. But the more you think about it, the more unique it is. There are a lot of businesses with local ownership and commuting is just fantastic. It's in close proximity to the MARC train, [Interstate] 695 cuts through and I-95 intersects it," Miller said.

There are several shopping complexes within walking distance, including a "downtown" of antique, bargain and specialty shops along Carville and Oregon avenues.

"When I first opened, I was the only pizza place in town, now there are 11 within walking distance and I'm still thriving," said Mike Tiso, who has operated Mike's Pizza House of Arbutus for 39 years.

A former Arbutus resident, Tiso runs the business with the help of his son, daughter and employees that have been with him for at least 20 years.

"I used to serve customers with their children. Now I'm serving the children's children. They all still come here. Even if they leave they can't wait to come back. They will come straight from the airport here, even before they go and see their families."

Sorrento of Arbutus, a restaurant for casual dining, has been in the neighborhood for 35 years. Owner Mike Kostinsky, who's father started the business, says it's not unusual to have businesses passed down the generations.

"A lot of family businesses have been here for a long, long time. And a lot of people who own the businesses live in Arbutus," said Kostinsky, who lives just outside the area.

"We have the third generation of people coming in here now and that's a testament to the area. I feel like I grew up here because I know so many people," he said.

The unofficial town center is the Hollywood Theatre on Oregon Avenue, which opened in 1935. After an electrical fire destroyed the theater in 1995, it was reopened with four screens and 750 seats in May 1998.

"All the kids go to the movie theater," said Re/Max's Miller. "For a town that small to have [and support] its own theater is just unbelievable. It's a fun area with tons of stuff to do. There's also a thriving business association that's very active."

New lighting and other renovations are planned in the spring for the central business area. Painting and new lighting also are planned for two state-owned bridges over Sulphur Spring Road.

"I thought about leaving, but ended up staying. It's a very stable nice community. I have very deep roots here," said Steve DeBoy Sr., who has lived in Arbutus all of his 43 years.

"Anything you need you can do right here in Arbutus. Most of the people that live in the community, if they can do their shopping here they will. It is a very traditional Americana community."


ZIP code: 21227

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes

Public schools: Arbutus Elementary School, Arbutus Middle School, Lansdowne High School

Homes on market: 3

Average listing price: $98,350*

Average sales price: $95,746*

Average days on market: 72*

Sales price as a percentage of listing: 97.35%*

*Based on 12 sales in the past 12 months as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

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