Small Howard town fights encroaching develpment

Residents of Dorsey, already surrounded, hope to avoid warehouse

June 12, 2000|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Every morning for the past 10 years or so, 72-year-old Herb Mollman has driven to Zion Cemetery in Elkridge to unlock the gates, and every evening he returns to lock them.

While there, he does his best to ignore the rush-hour traffic from nearby U.S. 1 and Route 100, the roar of planes from Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the rumble of trucks just outside in the Route 100 Business Park. And he tries not to look at the 18-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex looming over the graveyard from the neighboring miniature golf course, or the 25-foot fake volcano that sometimes spouts steam.

After spending a lifetime in Dorsey, a small town that spans the border of Howard and Anne Arundel counties, Mollman is pretty good at ignoring industrial encroachments on his way of life.

Once a tiny settlement, probably centered around a railroad switch, the unincorporated town lies in the airport noise zone, surrounded by a sea of warehouses, highways and office parks. But Mollman and the others who live there say Dorsey's residential community, anchored by a 150-year-old white clapboard church, has somehow managed to maintain its old-fashioned character.

"It's a small community village mentality where we look out for each other and take care of each other and treat each other with respect," said Sally Voris, who has lived in the neighborhood six years.

Lately, Dorsey residents have drawn on the strength of those close-knit ties in a fight to stop yet another industrial encroachment into their lives: a warehouse that would sit 30 feet from a residential area. Most residents vehemently oppose the developer, who seeks to cut down the mature trees that provide a buffer between them and the adjacent industrial land to the southwest.

They already have to contend with trains, planes, U.S. 1, Route 100, U.S. 295 and Route 176. They have had to put protective coating on the stained-glass windows of the Dorsey Emmanuel United Methodist Church to guard them from stones kicked up by the trucks, and a chain-link fence around the Zion Cemetery to keep out vandals.

With all these intrusions, they don't want a 24-hour warehouse so close to their neighborhood, bringing untold numbers of trucks with their smelly diesel fuel, noisy beeping as they back up and bright lights that could shine into their homes all hours of the night.

"Tear into our protective areas and you will tear into our property values," said Joseph Esposito, a Dorsey resident. "This is not a question of how much pain can we endure."

JoettaM. Cramm,a Howard County historian, says industry - the Dorsey's Switchtrain stop, to be exact - might have come to Dorsey before houses did. An 1868 map shows the church and several houses, Cramm said, which probably were built around the railroad switch.

"It must have been a little out-of-the-way settlement," she said. "It probably was just a stop on the railroad."

There are more houses now than then - but not many more. In Howard County, Dorsey is about four blocks long and three blocks deep. In Anne Arundel County it's not much bigger and shrinking day by day as BWI buys up all available land.

Even though it's in the heart of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, it still has an out-of the way feeling; the town is hard to find in the sea of industry that surrounds it.

When Mollman's grandparents lived in Dorsey, he said, they owned a farm where the Route 100 Business Park stands, and U.S. 1 was a two-lane road.

When his parents bought the home in which he lives, in 1917, there was no airport, and no airport noise zone.

"It was much quieter than it is now," he says. One day, he said, he expects the Anne Arundel side of the town to be all industrial.

But Mollman, who worked for 40 years at nearby Fort Meade, does not spend his time wringing his hands over things he cannot change.

You've got to go with the program," he says. "The airport is good for the state, brings in a lot of revenue, a lot of jobs."

Residents fighting the latest development are not as resigned.

"If ever a 150-foot buffer zone is needed, it is now," says Pat Johenning,whose relatives have lived in Dorsey for 150 years and whose 90-year-old mother tends a garden in the neighborhood.

No matter what happens - whether the warehouse goes up or not - you can bet that Herb Mollman will stick to his routine.

Every morning, about 8 a.m., he will arrive at Zion Cemetery to open the gates. Every evening, as the sun goes down, he will come back to close them. He will pick up litter and admire the lilies in the spring and the yellow of hickory trees in the fall.

One day, he knows, he will be laid to rest himself in the graveyard, next to his grandmother Maggie L. Mollman, who lived from 1865 to 1944.

"That's reserved for me, right there," he says, pointing to the spot.

Neither a new warehouse nor an 18-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex can change his mind about that.

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