George Uhl, of Ellicott City, is pictured on Thursday, May 19,… (Staff photo by Kitty Charlton,…)
One thing has always been clear to the residents of Lawyers Hill, a historic neighborhood perched along a dramatic ridge of land where the state's tidewater basin leaps 300 feet to the Piedmont Plateau and sweeping views of the Patapsco River Valley are common.
The world will change around them, even if they resist.
The small Elkridge neighborhood, located at Interstate 95 just south of the Patapsco River, began in the 1840s as a summer retreat for prominent Baltimore families escaping the bustle of the city, who built ornate homes veiled by acres of woods.
Then came the Civil War, which created tension among neighbors with opposing sympathies and planted a garrison of Union troops on the hill to guard the Thomas Viaduct below.
A century later, in the 1960s and 1970s, Interstates 95 and 895 came slicing through, cornering the small community against Washington Boulevard. More recent decades have brought new homes ever closer to its edges.
Now, change is again occurring in the district, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, change that has residents concerned about increased traffic, diminished forests and a loss of community character.
Two developers are working on projects to build a total of 91 single-family homes on 76 acres off Lawyers Hill Road that were previously the wooded grounds of a small scattering of historic properties. Trees have already been cleared, hills have been leveled, and a few new homes have already risen. At least one historic building has been demolished.
"Whatever I feel, people have to have a place to live, and I know that," said Pamela Dillon, who has lived for 26 years in the historic 1914 "Red Hill House," on nearby Old Lawyers Hill Road. "But ticky-tacky on top of pristine beauty is not it."
Some preservationists have praised one of the developers, Alan Meyer, whose family since 1942 has owned one of the properties being developed – the historic Claremont estate and its surrounding acreage – and who incorporated renovations to the 1858 home into his development plans.
Still, that praise is diminished by the fact that the double-gabled, wide-porched, Italianate-style home, once the shaded secret of a sprawling property, now sits stark atop a cleared field of dirt, residents said.
Meyer's 43-acre development of 48 homes, being built around the Claremont estate by Ryan Homes and called Claremont Overlook, is already in progress, with three new homes and the neighborhood's street-level infrastructure already in place. The homes are being sold starting at $440,000, Meyer said.
The Claremont estate will undergo restorations before being put on the market as well, Meyer said.
Construction of the second, adjacent development of 43 homes, which will be built on 33 acres by Trinity Homes and is dubbed Cypress Springs, will likely begin at the start of next year, said Michael Pfau, Trinity's president.
The only major historic property on Pfau's property, the 1906 Old Grace Church Rectory, was destroyed by arson years ago, he said. But another collapsed house, a small barn and a dilapidated log cabin were demolished for safety reasons, he said.
The cabin, though not as distinguished as the burned rectory, was listed as "contributing" to the district's historic nature on the 1993 national registry form.
Pricing for the new 3,000-square-feet homes planned for the development will be "market driven" and determined nearer to their completion, Pfau said.
The two new neighborhoods are both expected to be completed within the next three years, and will share one entrance on a hilly and curved section of Lawyers Hill Road, just up the hill from where Levering Avenue passes under the Thomas Viaduct.
The location of the entrance is a key concern for neighbors and local bicyclists.
"I don't think you'll find anyone here who's really happy about it," said Bruce Voris, of Old Lawyers Hill Road. "The traffic is going to be bad, and we expect it is going to get worse."
Jack Guarneri, president of Bicycling Advocates of Howard County, said while Lawyers Hill Road is far from the group's top concern in the county, the likely traffic increase there will complicate its use as a biking route.
"Is it going to affect it? Yeah, it will, especially on the downhill," Guarneri said. "These guys are out there in the dark, early mornings in the winter, so they want to make sure there's some provision made on the road for bicyclists."
Mike West, of Ellicott City, said he rides Lawyers Hill Road at least twice a week, all year long, with a group of five to 15 others. Most of the time, his group travels up the hill, but he routinely sees other bicyclists coming down the hill at 20 to 30 miles per hour, and he is concerned about cars making a left out of the new development and into the path of the bicyclists, he said.