Seeking the country life, they flock to Forest Hill

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE

Landscape is altered by sprouting homes Neighborhood profile

November 02, 2003|By James Gallo | James Gallo,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Amid the sprawling cornfields of Harford County, new and larger homes continue to speckle the once-rural landscape. It is becoming particularly evident in the small crossroads community of Forest Hill, just north of Bel Air. More homes than ever are under construction as new residents join longtime ones in seeking less-congested surroundings.

"I love the town because it's cozy," said Audrey Warfield, 70, who has lived her entire life in Forest Hill. "People here aren't pushy and not constantly at your doorstep, but they're also always there when you need them."

According to the U.S. Census, Forest Hill's population is 14,951, up 66 percent since 1990. The boundaries of Forest Hill are difficult to pinpoint, county planners said, because of the burgeoning growth. The heart of the area is at the intersection of Routes 23 and 24, where stately Victorian homes welcome visitors. But the farmlands that surround this area are giving way to new homes.

Residents say that means more traffic.

"I think the biggest change I've seen in the past six years is that you can't have a conversation outside anymore," says Peggy Lunnen, owner of Forest Hill Lighting and a resident of Forest Hill for 30 years. "It's so noisy outside you can't hear what anyone is saying. Years ago, these old Victorian houses would have been surprised to see one car in a day."

It's good for business

As Forest Hill gets noisier and traffic gets heavier, business is booming. During the past five years, several new strip malls have been added to the community.

Donna Roloff, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said most of the people moving into the new developments are younger professionals seeking their second home and who commute to Baltimore daily.

Most of the houses under construction range in price from $300,000 to $400,000.

The area has several townhouse and single-family developments in spots such as Forest Lakes and Spenceola Farms.

The new developments are designed for buyers who can afford more space and land, agents said.

"A lot of people are drawn to Forest Hill because it gives the quality of rural life along with close proximity to shopping and other conveniences," Roloff said.

A look into history

Historians know that the Forest Hill name dates to at least 1858 and attribute it to the area's woods and its elevation, according to VirtualHarford.com.

The area became a major shipping center for milk about 1885, in part because of the arrival of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which went through the village.

The community has attracted attention during the past few months, since a small plane crashed in the heart of the village and human bones were found in a nearby pond.

The plane crashed in August, killing the pilot and damaging a rental home owned by Warfield.

Police said the human leg and foot found in Friends Pond in September were pieces of an instructional skeleton used by teachers.

3 parks, and more

The pond is in one of the area's three parks, Friends Park, Blake's Venture and the Forest Hill Recreation Complex. There, residents have access to tennis and basketball courts, baseball and soccer fields, playgrounds and trails.

"We've also put enlarged gyms in many of the schools around Forest Hill," said Rob Bailey of Harford County Parks and Recreation.

Harford County has built nine new schools during the past 13 years.

In 1997, the old Forest Hill Elementary school was razed and replaced with a new building that could handle more students.

"They closed Forest Hill Elementary for a year and built a new one that houses 600 students instead of 480," said Don Morrison, director of information for the county schools.

Marco Ciavolino lived in nearby Abingdon until last year, when his family outgrew its townhouse. Needing more space for his four children, Ciavolino wanted to stay in the area and chose a 2-acre plot in Forest Hill, paying $259,900 for his new home.

"We really like the resources in the area also - there's all kinds of recreational activities," Ciavolino said. "It's close to [Interstates] 95 and 83, plus there are plenty of resources nearby for shopping and convenience."

Longtime residents such as Warfield say that even though Forest Hill is growing, it still has a small feel to it.

"It's like a little city now, not as rural as it used to be at all with all open ground," she said. "I remember when the stores all used to close at 6, and if you needed anything after that you'd just have to wait until the next day."

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