Quiet retreat amid woods and water


`A lot of people have invested their lives in being able to live here'

September 15, 2002|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"It's just so peaceful and quiet here," said Sue Johnson. "It's beautiful."

Johnson is talking about the Holly Neck Peninsula, an area surrounded by water, farmland and forest that is just south of Turkey Point off Back River Neck Road.

Johnson should know about peace and quiet because she and her husband, Herb, moved to the peninsula after living on a 12-acre farm in White Hall.

"It was nice living in Harford County, but there's no way to describe living on the water," said Johnson. "It's fantastic, wonderful."

The couple moved back to the area to take care of aging relatives. Herb Johnson grew up on the peninsula in an old waterfront shore home. The couple then rented a house in the area before moving to the farm in White Hall. In the 1990s, when the Johnsons moved back to the peninsula, they replaced Herb Johnson's old family home with a new house next to the Baltimore Yacht Club.

"People who come to the Baltimore Yacht Club come from all over the state. And they are amazed at how clean the neighborhood is," said Sue Johnson. "People are so enthused about keeping the neighborhood nice."

Until the early 1900s, the peninsula was wilderness that attracted mostly hunters and anglers. A few farms and orchards were also located on the peninsula. The waterfront area became an attraction for Baltimore residents looking to escape the summer heat. One- and two-room cottages on lots about 55 feet wide began to pop up, but it wasn't long until residents began adding on to the cottages for year-round occupancy.

Over the years, much of the area has remained wooded with several hundred acres still undeveloped. The majority of homes are located near the water, toward the ends of roads that branch off of Holly Neck Road. Each pocket neighborhood tends to be known by the name of the road on which it is located.

The Holly Neck Conservation Association was formed three years ago to help unite the peninsula. The group boasts 250 members. "It's a great place to live," said Jim Mitchell, association president. "It has mostly been redevelopment here, which we are proud of. We haven't disturbed a lot of forest or farmland. It's a growth-management area and well protected by a lot of different environmental laws."

Mitchell and his wife, Katie, moved to the area in the mid-1970s when many of the homes were still summer shore homes. The house they purchased was in "horrendous" condition but on the water, Mitchell says.

After several months and a lot of sweat equity, it became habitable. Then in 1991 the couple sold the house to a friend, bought the house next door and built a new house on the property.

`Amazing' beauty

"I'm not the only one like that," said Jim Mitchell. "A lot of people have invested their lives in being able to live here. A lot of people didn't come here with a lot of money, but came with a lot of energy and ideas and made it work. It's amazing how beautiful the homes are."

A large portion of the open property on the peninsula belongs to the Holly Neck Limited Partnership, headed by developer Leonard Berger. Over the years, Berger has tried to rezone the land during the county's comprehensive rezoning process with various development ideas for the parcel. In 2000, he was successful in getting nearly 150 acres rezoned to a less restrictive category.

And after years of delay, the peninsula will soon be served by public sewerage, something that could open the area to increased development.

To help protect and conserve the natural beauty of the area, the Bruce E. Johnson Land Trust Fund was established in February in memory of a Holly Neck Peninsula resident who died of cancer. The fund will be used to increase education, incentives and opportunities for voluntary land conservation.

Wildlife enjoyed

"It's a wonderful area that has a tremendous amount of wildlife; it's not unusual for me to wake up every morning with a blue heron on my dock," said Valerie Gaydos, who created the land trust in memory of her husband, Bruce E. Johnson. "We've aligned ourselves with the Maryland Environmental Trust, which relies on local land trusts to identify land recommended for conservation."

Gaydos said the group wants to encourage responsible development. "This is an absolute treasure back here," she said. "We're just trying to educate people as to the various benefits of putting land into conservation."

Since the early 1980s, the value of waterfront land has continued to escalate and it's not uncommon to find a waterfront house in the Holly Neck area on the market for more than $350,000.

Three of the four homes currently on the market in the Holly Neck Peninsula are on the waterfront. The homes list for $369,900, $499,900 and $620,000. Empty waterfront lots and those with unimproved shore homes sell in the $200,000 range. Homes not on the water are in the average range of $70,000 to $150,000, depending on the size, improvements and lot.

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