Columbia's young village

Children: River Hill, which is the planned community's newest village, is being defined by the large number of children who live there.

January 09, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A drive through the average cul-de-sac in River Hill -- where swing sets dot the lawns and minivans line the driveways -- reveals the very essence of Columbia's newest village.

Kids.

"We've accused Al Scavo of putting something in the water," said David W. Berson, a former village official, referring to the Rouse Co. executive who oversees development in Columbia. "That is one of the identifiers of the village: It is child-heavy."

River Hill's many tony homes, spacious yards and location near Clarksville have given it an image of elitism. But as Columbia's 10th and final village edges toward completion, it has also come to be defined by its youngest residents.

River Hill has become so full of them that the local elementary school, Pointers Run, one of the county's newest schools, is overflowing, and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has proposed building a $2.3 million addition to accommodate more than 200 additional pupils.

At the newly built Columbia Gym at River Hill Village Center, the Columbia Association has hired more than twice the staff anticipated to handle the number of young children in the nursery and other youth programs.

The apparent baby boom has a simple explanation, says the village's developer. And it has nothing to do with the water.

Unlike Columbia's other villages, the oldest of which was founded in 1967, the bulk of residences in River Hill are not townhouses, condominiums or rental apartments.

"There are more single-family detached, and single-family detached have more children per home than any other housing," said Alton J. Scavo, a Rouse senior vice president. "It's not too surprising to find out that there are a lot of children."

Housing differences -- and the fact that many of the village's residents are well-off -- are part of the reason River Hill has an elitist image.

The village's location on the western edge of Columbia sets it apart geographically. The River Hill Meeting Room and River Hill High School have a Clarksville address, as do many residents who live west of Trotter Road.

Homes in River Hill, which has more than half of its 1,700 acres devoted to open space, are among the most expensive in Columbia. Property values on Autumn Wind Circle in the neighborhood of Pointers Run range from $193,000 to $366,000, according to tax records. On Phelps Luck Drive in Long Reach, they range from $115,000 to $195,000.

In addition, the low proportion of multifamily housing and the absence of subsidized housing contribute to the perception that River Hill is more exclusive than Columbia's other villages. When building is complete, about 480, or 20 percent, of its 2,300 dwelling units will be devoted to townhouses, condominiums or multifamily units. No rental apartments are planned.

By contrast, Columbia's oldest village, Wilde Lake, which has a comparable number of dwelling units, is nearly three-quarters townhouses and apartments.

School enrollment statistics for River Hill paint a picture of a homogeneous community: Pointers Run and Clarksville Middle are 73 percent and 75 percent white, respectively, according to statistics released by the school system. River Hill High is 81 percent white.

"While it is clearly not as diverse as many of the older parts of Columbia, either racially or economically, it is far more diverse than is typically portrayed," said Berson, the village's former Columbia Council representative. "We do now have multifamily housing. We have had, for a long time, high-density, single-family housing. The majority [of residents] don't live in large, expensive homes."

Scavo said the village is expected to be completed in 2002. With the opening last month of Claret Hall, the community center building, River Hill Village Center along Route 108 is almost finished. Only an office building and an interfaith center remain to be developed.

Maggie Brown, vice president for community services for the Columbia Association -- the homeowners group that operates facilities and provides services for Columbia's 87,000 residents -- said every village has its own "flavor," including age group, housing type and facilities.

"It feels like a young community," said Brown, who lives in River Hill. "And it has an opportunity to chart its own course."

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