How do you design the perfect neighborhood? If you want a blueprint, try Fulton in south-central Howard County.
Midway between Baltimore and Washington, Fulton has easy access to highways and new schools. Homes, featuring a variety of prices and styles, grace the country atmosphere.
Laura Montague and her husband chose to live in Fulton 10 years ago because of its location. She worked in Baltimore, and he commuted to Washington. They were happy to find a place that had accessibility to both cities and wasn't too built up.
"We were more interested in land than a house," Laura said, adding that their home sits on an acre.
Long ago, land was about all there was of Fulton. Albert W. Wessel has lived in Fulton for 80 years -- his whole life except for 4 1/2 years he spent in the Army.
He remembers when Route 216, the main road through Fulton, was a dirt road and most residents were farmers. "There were about as many teams of horses on the road then as there are cars now," Wessel said.
The town center consisted of two blacksmith shops, a shoemaker, a general store with post office, a church and a tin-sided meeting hall called Brady's Grove. The general store still stands at Route 216 and Lime Kiln Road and is now a feed store.
Farther west on Route 216 sits a building that was a school in the 1880s. Wessel said it has been converted to a residence.
"My dad used to say that this was `such a quality place to live because there's a church but no beer joint,'" Wessel said.
But much has changed since then. At the center of town is Fulton Station, which has a liquor store, dry cleaner, jewelry shop, nail salon, animal hospital, computer store, chiropractor and pizza shop. Roads have been paved and widened. A modern post office serves the community of more than 650 households. And two new schools have opened next to each other -- Fulton Elementary in 1997 and Lime Kiln Middle last year. A new high school is scheduled to open there in 2002.
The schools are very important to Mary Ann McKenzie, whose daughter attends Fulton Elementary.
"I love the school, love the teachers, love everyone I've met there," said McKenzie, who has lived in Fulton for 14 years.
The school system also was a major factor when Peter and Diane Hundertmark decided to build a home in Fulton. Their 12-year-old daughter, Alison, wants to attend River Hill High School in nearby Clarksville.
The Hundertmarks looked at homes for about a year before deciding to purchase one in a Jamestown Builders development of 17 homes with prices from $350,000 to $550,000.
"The more we saw of existing homes, the more we wanted to design our own," Peter Hundertmark said. They used an existing floor plan and customized it to suit their lifestyle, adding what he called a "princess bathroom" off their daughter's bedroom.
Their home is under construction and scheduled for completion next month.
"We really like the area, especially the rural atmosphere, and it's not overly built yet," Peter said.
He works in Owings Mills and his wife commutes to Washington by train from the Savage station, so the location will work well for them.
"Location is a primary factor in people deciding to move to Fulton," said Richard Watson, a Realtor for Long and Foster Real Estate Inc., who sold the Hundertmarks their home.
Watson said the price range for homes runs from $250,000 for small, older ranchers to $700,000 or $800,000 for estate homes on multi-acres. He also has several 3-acre lots listed from $174,900 to $264,900.
Winchester Homes is building a 21-home subdivision on the southern side of Fulton. The houses, which start from $435,000 to $489,000, will sit on 1-acre lots that back up to Rocky Gorge Reservoir.
"They come for the country atmosphere and having some wide-open land," said Irene Miles of Century 21 H. T. Brown, adding that the location between Baltimore and Washington is attractive to many.
"Resales don't come up all that often," Miles said, "and normally they go quickly." Resales in the Beaufort Park subdivision, where most occur, are priced at $350,000 and higher.
But it is the farmland that dominates the Fulton landscape.
In the center of town, all the businesses are on the south side of Route 216. Across the street is a 507-acre turkey and dairy farm owned by the Iager family that is being considered for mixed-use development.
Development plans for the Iager farm have been submitted to Howard County government and include 1,168 residences -- detached homes, townhouses and apartments -- 150,000 square feet of retail space and 1 million square feet of office space. Building would be phased in over 10 years.
The Howard County Zoning Board has been holding hearings on the development since September. A decision is expected by mid-spring.
Many residents are opposed to the development, which could nearly triple the area's population. Others say that it is a responsible plan, and that growth is inevitable.
Albert Wessel, who has seen his share of change over the past 80 years, takes it all in stride. " I just go along with it, " he said.
ZIP codes: 20759, 21029
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 40 minutes
Public schools: Fulton Elementary School, Lime Kiln Middle School, River Hill High School
Shopping: Fulton Station, River Hill Village Center, Hickory Ridge Village Center, Columbia mall
Homes on market: 4
Average listing price: $319,378*
Average sales price: $309,226*
Average days on market: 71
Sales price as percentage of listing price: 96.8%*
* Based on 12 sales in the last 12 months by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (www.homesdatabase.com)