Using the past as a foundation

January 19, 2000

WHITE picket fences, wrap-around porches and Federalist-style houses that back to alleys -- is this a step back in time or a vision of the future? Both say residents of Terra Maria, a just completed "neo-traditional" housing development in Ellicott City that aims for a small town feel in one of Howard County's busiest growth corridors.

Built on land once owned by Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the 102-house development has been touted as a creative anachronism, a throwback to pre-cul-de-sac America, where people lived on small lots close to the streets, children played in alleyways and people knew their neighbors by name.

Buyers have shelled out between $250,000 and $300,000 for the 3,000 to 3,500-square foot houses, which are located on 6,000 to 12,000-square-foot lots. We talked to some of the residents of Terra Maria to find out why they chose a sense of community over subdivisions that offer bigger lots and houses.

Ben Sander, one of the original homeowners, moved there in 1997.

If you're in a standard development and somebody walks out of their house, they're so far away that you automatically don't have to say anything. The feeling here is quite a bit different than being in a normal development.

Automatically, you feel more friendly toward everybody just because of the proximity. (In some parts of the development, children) actually play in the alleys all the time. All those people are very bonded.

Marie Carpenter lived in San Francisco and Fairfax, Va., before moving to Terra Maria.

At first I thought that we wanted to move to Columbia. But when I learned more about it, I decided not to. We don't have young children so we wouldn't have had much interest in the Columbia Association. -- For such a planned community, it seems to me that there wouldn't be (unkempt) neighborhoods.

-- Because restaurants aren't readily available, we eat at home more. There's not as much selection. I come from San Francisco where restaurants are plentiful. For us, this is probably the least diverse place we've lived. To be honest, I used to live in a much more diverse neighborhood. I would hope that all cultures would be welcome here.

Paul Navarria moved to Terra Maria from Woodbine. He has also lived in Baltimore County.

In Woodbine, we had a big piece of property and things were spread out. In our last neighborhood, you (could go without seeing) anyone for like two weeks. But it's not like that here. On a summer day, you can sit on the steps right there and there'll be like one group right after the next just walking the streets saying, "Hi, how are you doing?"

If the kids had their choice, they'd move back out there (Woodbine). They liked it better out there. They like the big yard, the woods, the pond, that whole thing, even though they didn't have as many friends. ... There are a lot of little kids here. We're the oddballs with high schoolers. There are not many high school kids here at all. This is civilization.

The reason we moved out of Woodbine was to get away from all that congestion. After being out there for four years, it was like, this is enough of this. We need some civilization. We had to drive 10 miles just to get to a 7-11.

Bob Coelho moved to Terra Maria after living in Columbia for 16 years, where he served on his village's architectural review committee.

I don't think it's perfect here. The houses are expensive. -- There is not a tremendous amount of racial diversity. I'd say it's about 85 percent white; that's not the norm for Howard County.

It's a very friendly neighborhood. People come up to your porch and talk to you. --

A small general store would be ideal for this community. It would be something that you could walk to. We would also like an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. You really need something like that, a place where families can congregate.

Linda Rosendall is one of Terra Maria's empty nesters.

Families look for neighborhoods that are safe and comfortable. I go out at 5: 30 in the morning and 10 o'clock at night to walk my dog around the block and there are other people walking. I don't worry. Maybe I'm naive, but I just feel safe. But I felt safe in my other neighborhood, too.

We came from a more rural community. We had a half-acre yard and we were ready to give up the yard. The kids had left and we wanted a new home and we really liked the concept of this neighborhood. We were in a 35-year-old rancher and I just fell in love with the concept of front porches and sidewalks.

The yards here are really tiny but there are a lot of people here with kids. I think maybe 25 to 35 percent of the people here are empty nesters.

There are a lot of women here who I think are professionals who've had a career and now have had babies later in life. They're very active. They're the ones who organize a lot of the stuff that we do and that's wonderful.

Marianne Cardomone moved to the development a year ago.

We lived in California for 17 years. People were more standoffish there; our friends were outside of our neighborhood. That was the thing that drew us here. This was a new community. Everyone here just moved in. Everything is new.

-- There are either young families with small children or empty nesters like ourselves here. We didn't want to live with all older people. We're not ready for that.

We weren't that thrilled with Columbia. We saw older sections but we didn't want to live in a home more than 2 years old. I find Columbia very frustrating -- it's a big maze. -- I like to be able to find things. Nine times out of 10, when we go there to find new things, we get lost.

Interviews were conducted by Jill Yesko, a free-lance writer.

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