Storm didn't lessen appeal

Most in Bowleys Quarters plan to stay and rebuild

Few let flooding deter them

Realtors see no shortage of buyers for shore homes

October 05, 2003|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The storm has come and gone.

Flood-damaged homes, cars and personal items serve as a reminder to those living along the water's edge.

Bowleys Quarters, a Middle River community recently submerged in the wake of Isabel, suffered greatly. But in the midst of recovery, residents say, their waterfront neighborhood has become stronger.

Melvin Knight moved to Bowleys Quarters three years ago, exchanging city life in Baltimore for a "relatively small house with a little water, a dock and some land. You know, a simple life," he said, laughing at the irony.

For the moment, that life is anything but simple.

His waterfront home on Goose Harbor can best be described as "just a lot of incredible mess," according to Knight, who has been working around-the-clock to salvage what he can. He and others in this eastern Baltimore County community are dealing with insurance companies and contractors as they try to rebuild their damaged homes.

Some fear that their pricey flood insurance won't pay enough to cover the damages. Others can't wait to build new homes that will better withstand a flood. And real estate agents and others said investors have been calling, offering to buy damaged homes and the waterfront property they sit on to make way for expensive new houses.

"Bowleys Quarters is like an island - one road in [Bowleys Quarters Road], and that's how you get out. And if you can't get out that road, you're there for the stay. That's exactly what happened during this flood," said Knight, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Roland Park. "We were literally cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phone service, nothing."

County leaders and developers have high hopes for a continued renewal along the Middle River shoreline, where average home prices have reached $400,000 and new development continues.

But despite the newcomers, the area remains a place where generations of families grew up and remain.

And those who live and sell homes in Middle River said they still expect buyers to come calling for waterfront property.

"A couple of my neighbors said, 'This is a horrible thing, but my house is going to be salvaged and it makes me realize how much I love it here,' " Knight said. "No one has said, 'I've had enough and I'm leaving,' because this isn't something that normally happens. I don't think it's going to deter anyone from living here."

Charlie Baynes is a third-generation Bowleys Quarters resident and Realtor with Long and Foster Real Estate who specializes in the Middle River area. His two children are fourth-generation residents. Baynes' house sits high along the Seneca Creek and was spared any damage.

"My grandfather used to tell me we were the highest point in Bowleys Quarters, and I think this proved it," he said.

His neighbors, however, were "very much flooded out."

Baynes and Knight predict property values will continue to rise as more new homes go up and older homes, damaged beyond repair, are replaced.

Baynes and his wife intend to build a new waterfront house in Bowleys Quarters when they sell their current home, which they put on the market before the storm. The five-bedroom house and property, which includes 100 feet of waterfront on 7.5 acres that can be subdivided, is listed at $1.9 million.

Knight paid $275,000 for three houses built on 1.5 waterfront acres. Recently, a neighboring house on 1 acre sold for $525,000. The buyers bulldozed the house, Knight said, and have begun building a new one.

Two weeks before Isabel, Coldwell Banker Realtor Frank Lanham listed a house in Bowleys Quarters for $459,000. After it suffered superficial damage in the storm, Lanham said, he received an influx of inquiries about the home.

"It's funny; I had five phone calls three or four days after the storm from people interested in seeing it. I actually was surprised. I thought that, at least for a while, things would be really mellow," he said. "Everybody's mentality is `How many times has a storm of this magnitude hit?' This is one storm of a lifetime."

There is no shortage of buyers, Lanham said. The sellers, however, are typically more difficult to come by.

"A lot of people have lost their homes," Lanham said, "but they want to stay."

Lifelong Middle River resident Steve Laffoon lives on Seneca Park Road and has seen his share of floods. If you live on the water, he said, potential flooding comes with the territory. But apart from the havoc and destruction Isabel caused, Laffoon said, it has brought neighbors closer together.

"Even though everybody around here pretty much gets along, you've got a few people who haven't really said a whole lot to each other, other than `Hello' or `How ya doin'?' " said Laffoon, a mechanic at Rukert Terminals Corp. in Canton. "Now we're all standing around, joking and carrying on. Even though everybody around here is going through something that has drastically changed their lives, I think it's kind of improved the spirit of some people. There's a lot of camaraderie."

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