Carroll population up 22 percent

Relocation: An influx of metropolitan-area residents seeking a better quality of life boosts the county's growth to fifth-fastest in Maryland.

March 20, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Little illustrates growth in Carroll County better than the intersection of Routes 32 and 26 in Eldersburg. Once the domain of an Esso station and a farm, the crossroads today is thick with strip malls, gas stations and a Wal-Mart.

"Thirty or 35 years ago there was nothing but a stop sign there," said Nimrod Davis, 75, a lifelong Carroll resident who is vice chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council. "In the middle of the day you could take a nap in that intersection and never get run over."

Yesterday's release of data from the 2000 Census only served to confirm the obvious: South Carroll, also known as the Freedom area, like Westminster and the rest of the county, is growing.

Carroll's population grew about 22 percent over the past decade - from 123,372 people in 1990 to 150,897 people in 2000, according to the U.S. Census. It is the fifth-fastest growing county in the state, after Calvert, Worcester, Howard and Frederick counties.

"Growth is happening where we wanted it to happen," said county Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "That's a good indication that our master plan is working."

In Freedom, the 47-square-mile area encompassing Eldersburg and Sykesville, the population grew 46 percent between 1990 and 2000, from 17,838 to 26,063.

Westminster city's population grew 28 percent during this period, from 13,068 to 16,731 people, making it the 14th largest municipality in the state.

Westminster's growth slowed toward the last half of the decade; building permits that were issued decreased from a high of 150 per year in the early 1990s to a low of 29 per year in the second half of the 1990s, said Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works. The majority of building took place in developments west of Route 31, where more than 300 housing units have gone up in the past decade.

Much of the growth in Carroll was caused by the relocation of people from Baltimore and Howard counties, drawn by the quality of life, the schools and the proximity to employment centers in Baltimore, Frederick and Washington.

The county has attracted many families with children. Nearly 28 percent of the population is younger than 18 - one of the highest percentages in Maryland.

But Carroll's expansion has not come without growing pains. In the past decade, residential growth has outpaced commercial and industrial development, crowding classrooms, and straining police and emergency services. And dry summers have often triggered water shortages in South Carroll.

Although the county leads the state in agricultural land preservation, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has been critical of projects and decisions that he says run counter to his Smart Growth program.

He killed $270 million in bypass projects for Westminster's Route 140 and Manchester's Route 30 two years ago, saying a bypass would direct growth outside municipal boundaries and contribute to sprawl.

"The ruralness of this area is pretty much gone," said Bobby Ray Chesney, chief of the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department. Last year, Chesney's department - Carroll's second busiest - received 2,347 fire and emergency medical calls, compared with about 1,400 calls in 1992.

In the seven years since Donna Slack, 39, moved into a five-bedroom house in Eldersburg, a 10th of a mile from the intersection of Sykesville and Liberty roads (Routes 32 and 26), she's seen a Wal-Mart, a medical center, a three-story health club and a shopping center built nearby.

"If they're going to keep building like they've been doing around here, my best bet is to keep planting around my house so that I can make it my own little world," Slack said.

To accommodate the growing number of children in Carroll, the county has built nine schools in the past 10 years. Six additional projects modified and expanded schools. Two new schools - Century High in Eldersburg and Winters Mill outside Westminster - are under way. And 117 portable classrooms are being used this year at Carroll's elementary, middle and high schools.

Carroll remains the least racially diverse county in metropolitan Baltimore, according to the census. However, the number of minorities has grown by 58 percent to 7,442 people. Minorities in Carroll account for almost 5 percent of the county's population - a rate of growth that excites Phyllis Black, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a lifelong Carroll resident who lives in Westminster. "There was a day and a time when I knew everyone," Black said. "Now I can walk into grocery markets and see African-Americans I don't even know."

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