'Great community for kids' pleases single dad


Harper's Choice friendly, convenient and well-policed


As a single parent of an 8-year-old girl, Dennis Miller wanted to make sure his daughter would feel comfortable before they made the move from Olney to the Village of Harper's Choice In Columbia.

His strategy was to sell her on the parks in the area.

"It's a great community for kids," he said. They visited three before Kristen, his daughter, even saw the townhouse. She thought the parks were great - the house was OK, too.

Miller has lived in two other Columbia villages, but Harper's Choice is more convenient for him now. "I can get to everything," he said, citing the 7-minute commute to his Ellicott City job. He and Kristen often walk to the village center on weekends or bicycle to one of the parks.

The residential turnover in the village is gradual. Most Harper's Choice residents are original owners of the homes that were built in the 1970s. Their children have grown up along with the trees that line the curved streets and cul-de-sacs. A strong sense of community has grown there as well.

"I think James Rouse's idea of community and neighborhood worked here," said Wendy Tzuker, Harper's Choice village manager. "It's the ideal of what he was trying to achieve."

Harper's Choice has all the elements Rouse believed important to creating the perfect place to live - a variety of housing, jobs and recreation and plenty of natural areas, all within neighborhoods that would attract residents from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

Located in the northwest parts of Columbia, Harper's Choice was named for Robert Harper Goodloe Carroll, owner of a significant tract of the Carroll estate, which was sold to the Rouse Company for the development of Columbia.

Today, 8,700 people call Harper's Choice home. Housing prices range from $70,000 for a condominium to more than $500,000 for a large home on Hobbit's Glen golf course. Most of the homes -townhouses, split-foyers or traditional two-stories - sell for between $100,000 and $225,000.

The variety of housing has led to a stable, yet diverse population.

Kim Nowalk, an agent with O'Conor, Piper and Flynn ERA in columbia, said real estate in Harper's Choice doesn't often on the market "There's very little inventory and lots of buyers," she said.

The village center shopping area has more than 10,000 square feet of recently renovated retail space including six restaurants, a grocery store, bank and pharmacy. Nearby are the Columbia Athletic Club, a miniature golf course, batting cages, a skateboard park and three swimming pools, all operated by the Columbia Association, the governing body for Columbia. Residents are minutes from the Mall at Columbia and the lakefront, and have easy access to Routes 108 and 32.

For Harvey and Mary Ellen Zorbaugh, Harper's Choice offers every convenience they want, from shopping to athletic facilities to proximity to work. Both can walk to work.

Almost every working day for the past 20 years, Mary Ellen Zorbaugh has walked to and from her job three miles away In Columbia's Town Center. Harvey, a retired teacher and administrator as well as an avid tennis player, works in the indoor tennis facility at the Columbia Athletic Club, just a mile from home.

The Zorbaughs moved to Columbia 25 years ago, after Harvey read an article about "the new planned city of Columbia." They purchased a home in Harper's Choice near the golf course and have lived there ever since. "I think we're here for the duration." he said.

But as Harper's Choice became more developed and the population increased, crime also increased, particularly at the village center. Some people perceived the village center as an unsafe place and stopped going there.

Recently, Harper's Choice has been designated a crime HotSpot by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. Tzuker said that, due to the efforts of a strong grass roots organization, police were scheduled to open yesterday a satellite office called the Harper's Choice Community Action Center in the village center.

Within Harper's Choice are three neighborhoods with unique name themes.

Hobbit's Glen and all its street names come from the writings of English author J. R. R. Tolkien. Longfellow is named for 19th-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and its street names are derived from his works The third neighborhood, Swansfield, takes its name from "The Swan," an etching by l9th-century artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, its streets are named after Whistler's art and that of Winslow Homer, a late 19th - and early 2Oth-century painter.

A strong sense of community is apparent in Longfellow. where every July 4 there is a parade that features floats created by residents of each cul-de-sac. Joe Mazalewski, a 20-year resident, is one of the organizers of the event, and he personally paints the street red, white and blue.

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