Jackson Taylor's house in the Arundel on the Bay neighborhood

In the Arundel on the Bay neighborhood south of Annapolis, Jackson Taylor plans to rebuild his 1930 cottage with an additional guest wing. (Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum / October 12, 2003)

Since Debbie Allen bought her 943 square feet of paradise, she has watched 16 years of sunrises over the Chesapeake Bay and boats crawling past her window. She has also watched the homes around her get larger and larger.

If she is forced to sell because she can't find a way to repair the damage Tropical Storm Isabel inflicted on her small home, her Pasadena lot could become the site of the next waterfront mini-mansion.

Allen, 50, a widow with three children who teaches driver education, hasn't figured out how she can afford to rebuild.

"We're upper lower-class, lower middle-class," the Anne Arundel County resident says.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, people like the Allens - middle-income families with million-dollar views - have gradually been pushed from Anne Arundel County's 533-mile shoreline and Baltimore County's 175 miles. So have the quaint summer cottages that long defined the waterfront. In their place, larger and larger homes have sprouted.

Those who know the coast say Isabel's passing will accelerate that change. In Anne Arundel, it destroyed 72 homes and did major damage to 595 more. In Baltimore County more than 300 homes must be torn down, and hundreds more were damaged.

Most of the homes were small, old and on the shore.

Where those smaller homes disappear, larger residences perched atop stilts will take their place, real estate agents and community activists say.

In Bowleys Quarters overlooking Galloway Creek, Douglas and Shanon Zinn of Owings Mills owned a shore shack that they used as weekend getaways. That was before Isabel.

Now the Baltimore County couple have an empty waterfront lot and plans to build a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a loft.

"Isabel did the demolition for us," Shanon Zinn says.

Annapolis real estate agent Charlie Buckley has a joke he tells clients who complain about the million-dollar prices of run-down waterfront homes.

"I can tear down the house," he tells them, "but it will still cost you a million."

It wasn't so long ago that waterfront property wasn't so coveted. That's where watermen lived. They weren't upper-class, and they didn't own large homes.

That was before two modern amenities became common: homes with central air conditioning and boats made of fiberglass, making sailing affordable to the middle class, says Buckley, who trademarked his nickname, "Mr. Waterfront."

Real estate agents and longtime waterfront families disagree about what caused the area's first waterfront housing boom, but they agree that it was about 1970.

It happened "all of a sudden," says Severna Park Re/Max broker Rich Dobry, who began specializing in waterfront property in 1975.

New homes filled gaps between cottages and shore shacks. Homes lined nearly the entire coast.

About that time, building requirements started to change. Baltimore County adopted codes in the 1970s requiring anyone building within the state's flood plains - or making "substantial" repairs or renovations - to elevate the first floor above the "100-year flood" level. Anne Arundel adopted similar laws in 1974.