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Howard County boasts a distinct and thriving collection of communities, old and new, stable and growing.

In Columbia, one-third of the land is designated as open space. Woods, parkland, playgrounds and other public spaces are required by covenant to remain undeveloped.

Elsewhere in the county, a farmland preservation program designates certain areas for housing and permanently protects others from development. Newcomers to the county should explore the status of the property in which they are interested. Prospective Columbians should also investigate the Columbia Association property assessment; this extra “tax” supports Columbia’s recreation and community facilities.

Here is a look at some of the communities Howard countians call home:

ELKRIDGE

Once a bustling port on the Patapsco River, the Elkridge of today is a growing community laced with antiquity. Historic Main Street, lined with rowhouses and small businesses, exists beside busy commuter routes such as Route 1, the nation’s first highway, and Route 100, which links the area to Glen Burnie and points beyond. Elkridge, with more than 39,000 residents, is the fastest-growing area in Howard County, offering an abundance of housing styles, both affordable and upscale.

ELLICOTT CITY

Today’s seat of county government was founded in 1772 by the Ellicotts, three Quaker brothers from Pennsylvania, as a milling center. Today, it retains the same small-town charm despite intense growth.

Historic Main Street offers antiques shops, restaurants and a riverside B&O railroad station and museum.

Beyond Ellicott City’s historic heart, residential neighborhoods offering a variety of housing flow from the Patapsco River to the center of the county. Baltimore National Pike is a bustling business district, while open space is filled with golf courses, parkland and such upscale neighborhoods as Farside, The Chase and The Preserve, where home prices frequently surpass the $1 million mark.

COLUMBIA

Begun in 1967 on 21 square miles of farmland, the planned community of Columbia has grown to a town of about 98,000 people in 10 villages. Developer James Rouse’s vision for this “new town” included racial diversity, religious sharing and environmentally conscious development — a place where people can grow.

Rouse’s plan of building each neighborhood around a village center gives Columbia a small-town feel. But the city also has amenities other small towns can’t match, such as downtown offices, a major shopping mall, extensive recreation facilities and a large concert pavilion.

Columbia’s downtown is set to be redeveloped over the next 30 years by Howard Hughes Corp., bringing thousands of new residences and businesses to Town Center.

CLARKSVILLE AND HIGHLAND

Large, luxurious houses sit alongside farmers’  fields in this section of the county. Growing Clarksville is the site of River Hill, Columbia’s 10th and final village, plus a smattering of restaurants, shops and businesses. Meanwhile, at Highland’s more rural intersection, you’ll find a community market, state-of-the-art post office and a variety of small businesses in both new and well-established retail space.

SAVAGE

Once a community focused on a textile mill, the Savage we see today and the renovated Savage Mill Shopping Center are an antiques lover’s and artisan’s dream. Still a “small town,” Savage is a tight-knit community with churches, a park, a community hall and the annual Savage Fest bringing residents together.

WESTERN HOWARD COUNTY

The towns of Glenelg, Glenwood, Cooksville, Lisbon and West Friendship were once farming areas where communities were centered around churches, schools and general stores.

Today, much of the rolling farmland has been replaced by stately new homes on spacious lots, though more rural areas remain. The western end of the county boasts some of the highest-priced housing in the area. Local amenities include a library, senior center and a regional park with a 50,000-square-foot multi-use community center.

NORTH LAUREL AND FULTON

Centers of major development, Fulton and North Laurel are home to police and fire stations, shops, schools and churches. North Laurel, separated from the city of Laurel in Prince George’s County by the Patuxent River, offers close proximity to shops, antiques stores and restaurants, as well as golf courses and the Rocky Gorge Reservoir.

Maple Lawn in Fulton — a 600-acre development that will include 1,100 homes, a community center, pool, tennis courts and 78 acres of parks and open space — is under way, with the shops and restaurants in the community’s downtown area doing a brisk business.

Emerson, a 570-acre development by General Growth Properties will have 1,200 new homes when completed. Nearby Stone Lake, on 137 acres, features a 25-acre lake.

HOME SWEET HOME

The latest trend in housing is the “active adult community” for residents 55 and older. Single-family homes, condos and townhouses with amenities such as lawn services, clubhouses and shuttle service to shopping areas are increasing in the county. Whether you are seeking an efficiency apartment or a luxurious single-family home, a variety of options for both homeowners and renters are available in the county.

In 2010, there were 2,840 homes sold in Howard County, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which tracks home sales throughout the region. The median price of a home sold in Howard County in 2010 was $360,000.

Although costs in this part of the nation are higher than in many other sections, there is some assistance for those in need. Federally subsidized housing is available through the Columbia Housing Corp. (410-730-9554) and the county (410-313-6320). Renters and buyers are urged to contact local real estate agencies for further information.

USEFUL PHONE NUMBERS

Columbia Association/Columbia Welcome Center
410-715-3000

Columbia Housing Corp.
410-730-9554

Howard County Association of Realtors
410-715-1437

Howard County Planning & Zoning
410-313-2350

Howard County Housing & Community Development
410-313-6320

WHERE TO STAY

Need temporary digs?
Hosting out-of-town guests?
The following list may help:

Best Western-BWI
410-796-3300

Commodore Joshua Barney House
301-362-1900

Courtyard By Marriott
410-290-0002

Doubletree
410-997-1060

Extended Stay America
410-772-8800

Extended Stay Deluxe
410-872-2994

Hampton Inn
410-997-8555

Hilton Garden Inn
410-750-3700

Holiday Inn Columbia
410-799-7500

Holiday Inn Express
410-579-8888

Homewood Suites
410-872-9200

The Hotel at Turf Valley
410-465-1500

The Inn at Peralynna
410-715-4600

The Obladi
410-480-1968

Sheraton Columbia
410-730-3900

SpringHill Suites Columbia by Marriott
410-290-7896

Staybridge Suites
410-964-9494

Studio PLUS
410-312-1557

Wayside Inn
410-461-4636

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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