Houses mostly alike, residents mostly likable


Academy Heights still attracts all ages

December 21, 2003|By Karen Baxter | Karen Baxter,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Academy Heights area of Catonsville once was considered a country setting - a spot away from the hustle of the city.

That 1950s setting has long since disappeared, replaced by the trademarks of suburbia - shopping centers, busy roadways and houses as far as the eye can see.

But Academy Heights remains a popular choice for those seeking a first home.

It served that role for World War II veteran Maurice Peter and his wife, Peggy, in November 1950. The Peters, who were expecting their second child at the time, moved from an Essex apartment and into their first home in Academy Heights. That setting, its affordable new housing and the proximity to downtown were all draws for Maurice Peter and dozens of other optimistic young veterans.

Academy Heights lies between the Baltimore City line to the east and the Baltimore Beltway to the west. It has 487 neo-Colonial-style brick rowhouses built between 1950 and 1952, all with slate roofs and white fascia boards.

All also have basically the same rectangular floor plan, consisting of three bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper level, and a living room, dining room and small eat-in kitchen on the first floor.

Sizes range from 1,200 to 1,512 square feet. And in most cases, the homes include a finished basement with a half-bath and an unfinished attic. The end-of-group units, which agents said are brisk sellers when they reach the market, have fireplaces and larger yards.

Protective covenants require that all houses retain their slate roofs, brick walls, concrete porches and walks and the wooden front door, among other restrictions.

These rules may help Academy Heights gain federal historic preservation status, hopes Kathie Bankert, president of the Academy Heights Civic Association. The application process is under way and, if successful, would be a "big boost" to the community, Bankert said. That designation could provide tax credits for homeowners making renovations.

Property values have increased in the past few years. Sale prices have gone from the low $100,000s during the late 1990s to an average of about $160,000 this year, says Jean Chavis, a Realtor with the Catonsville/Elkridge office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. Chavis has sold real estate in the area for 17 years and says Academy Heights has been a sought-after neighborhood.

"As soon as a house comes on the market, everyone is clamoring to get their [buyers] in there to see what it looks like," she says.

Currently, there are no homes on the market. Two of the five homes under contract - one end unit and one interior - sold for $179,900.

Jamie and Lisa Dickey moved to Academy Heights in 1998 and they now have an 8-month-old daughter, Gracie. It's a neighborhood the couple knows well - Lisa Dickey is a Catonsville native. The Dickeys are putting the finishing touches on their home, which they have completely renovated during the past five years.

"Since we've been here, six more couples we know have moved in," Jamie Dickey said. "It's a nice place to live. And we're close to the city, but far enough away."

A number of original residents - or their adult children - remain in the community, giving it a sense of consistency.

"I don't think it's really changed that much, other than the trees have grown," said Bankert, a second-generation resident.

Community events always have been a part of life in Academy Heights. Maurice Peter recalls that in the early years "the police would close off the street and we would have block parties. Everyone would bring out the one thing that they cooked best."

A bowling league also united residents then.

Now, community activities include an Easter egg hunt, a Fourth of July celebration, a Halloween party, two neighborhood yard sales and a Christmas decoration contest - which is judged by art students from nearby Mount de Sales Academy.

The all-girls' Catholic high school originally owned the land that makes up the neighborhood and is the area's namesake. The school still is an integral part of the community, with many residents participating in its homecoming festivities, bull and oyster roast, Christmas bazaar and spaghetti dinner, Bankert says. The civic association also holds its monthly meetings at the school.

Christian Temple Christian Church also is within the neighborhood's boundaries.

"It's quiet. It's family. Everyone speaks to each other," Bankert says of the area. "It's a good, solid, stable neighborhood."

Academy Heights

ZIP code: 21228

Drive time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Schools: Westowne Elementary; Catonsville Middle; Catonsville High; Mount de Sales Academy; Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville; University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Shopping: U.S. 40 corridor; Westview; Security Square

Houses on the market: 0

Average list price: $157,743 *

Average sale price: $157,710 *

Average days on market: 11 *

Percentage of sale price in comparison with list price: 99.5 percent *

* Based on 25 sales during the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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