West leads growth in Arundel

Census: Figures released yesterday show the county's population has risen almost 15 percent since 1990

Census 2000 The Maryland Count

March 20, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Crofton Elementary School Principal Harry Zacharko has watched the 730-pupil school - in one of Anne Arundel County's fastest-growing areas - start bursting at the seams.

In the past six years, the school's population has mushroomed to the point where the cafeteria doubles as a gym, an undersized auditorium forces school assemblies to be held off campus and three new portable classrooms - which Zacharko euphemistically calls "cottages" - are slated to join five already on campus this summer.

"It's just been a steady growth," Zacharko said of the 59 percent increase in enrollment in the past six years. "And I'm aware that other schools in the Crofton area are near or exceeding capacity."

Although its growth fell short of the booming 1970s and 1980s, Anne Arundel County grew by more than 62,000 residents, or nearly 15 percent, in the most recent decade. The increase alone is just 6,000 short of the county's population in 1940.

Much of the growth has occurred in western Anne Arundel, where Crofton, for example, swelled by more than 7,000 residents since 1990 to 20,091 residents. The county as a whole has 489,656 residents, U.S. Census figures released yesterday show.

Young, middle-income families were lured to the area in the 1990s by large developments such as Walden and Chapman Farms in Crofton, and Seven Oaks, Russett and Piney Orchard in the Odenton-Fort Meade area.

Developers estimate that the latter three communities - built within seven miles of one another - account for nearly 80 percent of the home-building activity in the west. County officials designated that area for growth in the late 1980s in an effort to divert building activity from Annapolis-Parole and other coastal areas.

Developers and county officials say western Anne Arundel was attractive to builders and buyers because of its large tracts of vacant land, its location between Baltimore and Washington and its proximity to job centers such as Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Northrop-Grumman, Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Security Agency.

The flood of new residents has meant good business for John Kim, owner of Station Cleaners in Odenton, near the Maryland Rail Commuter Service train station. Kim has owned the business for a year and half, and said he has noticed more professionals dropping off dress shirts, slacks and blazers. One visible sign of the population: the full parking lot at the train station, where more than 1,000 commuters board daily.

"There are a lot of new customers," Kim said. "They drop off their clothes and hop on the train."

Richard Josephson, a county planning administrator, said that in making housing choices, people are moving farther out, in many cases skipping over Anne Arundel in favor of Charles and St. Mary's counties and the Eastern Shore.

In addition, Anne Arundel's land-use policies have kept large tracts of land undeveloped, Josephson said.

As western Anne Arundel blossomed, growth in the northern part of the county - which tends to be older - slowed or declined. Brooklyn Park, population 10,938, has lost 177 residents in the past decade. Linthicum now has 7,539 residents, down 61 since the previous census.

The census figures also show that Anne Arundel is becoming increasingly diverse. The most noticeable increases were among the Hispanic and Asian populations, which increased by more than 89 percent and 50 percent, respectively: Hispanics to 12,902 and Asians to 11,535. The African American population increased 31.5 percent, to 66,428.

The Hispanic presence is apparent in North County, where Mexican residents attend Spanish Mass at Catholic churches, and in the sprawling apartment complexes in South County, where Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants occupy what were once predominantly black neighborhoods.

Korean community activists say the increased Asian population reflects the influx of Koreans who have settled in the northern Anne Arundel communities of Glen Burnie, Severn and Pasadena, where Korean-owned businesses and churches have blossomed.

And some Korean, Hispanic and African-American community leaders say the growth figures are understated.

"I thought we had 15,000 to 20,000 at least," said Kap Park, vice president of the Korean American Grocers Organization.

Park, a member of the county's Complete Count Committee, said he blames what he views as an undercount on the late arrival of bilingual literature and on a failure to hire minority census takers.

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