Howard County's communities, housing and transportation

St. John's Manor, a housing development in Howard County, in 1957.
St. John's Manor, a housing development in Howard County, in 1957. (STACKS / Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Howard County has a distinct and thriving collection of communities, old and new, stable and growing. In Columbia, nearly a quarter of the land is preserved 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; an annual property owner’s charge and membership fees support Columbia’s recreation and community facilities.


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


Meet Brian Seel: He lives in Baltimore City, but commutes to Howard County for work. Without a car. His daily journey takes place on foot and by train, and involves fence hopping, swamp dodging and the occasional game of live Frogger trying to cross busy roads with no crosswalks.

Begun in 1967 on 21 square miles of farmland, the planned community of Columbia has grown to a town of around 100,000 people in 10 villages. Developer James W. Rouse’s vision for this “new town” included racial diversity, religious sharing and environmentally conscious development.

Each village is built around a village center, giving Columbia a small-town feel. But the city also has amenities small towns can’t match, such as downtown offices, a major shopping mall, extensive recreation facilities, an award-winning dinner theater and a large concert pavilion.

Columbia’s downtown continues to be redeveloped by the Howard Hughes Corp., bringing in thousands of new residences and businesses. Plans for an additional 1.5 million square feet of office space, including a 12-story headquarters for a cybersecurity firm and more than 2,000 residences, are underway in the Merriweather District, billed as the first in the country built for automated self-parking cars.

The Howard County Economic Authority is coordinating the development of the nearby Columbia Gateway business park into an innovative mixed-use district with easy access to the town center. As the nonprofit Downtown Arts and Culture Commission continues to grow artistic and cultural activities in Columbia, developers hope to make downtown a walkable tech hub as well as an attractive place to live, work and play.



Luxurious houses and large developments sit alongside farmers’ fields in this section of the county. Growing Clarksville is the site of River Hill, Columbia’s 10th and final village, with a growing number of restaurants, shops and businesses. Clarksville Commons, a town square-style complex recognized for its sustainable design by the U.S. Green Business Council, opened in the heart of Clarksville last spring. It includes the county’s first and only food hall, which opened last summer.

Meanwhile, at Highland’s more rural intersection, you’ll find a community market, a tavern, a pet groomery and a variety of other small businesses in new and well-established retail space.


Once a bustling port on the Patapsco River and one of the first settled areas in what is now Howard County, Elkridge is a growing community laced with antiquity. Historic Main Street, lined with rowhouses and small businesses, exists alongside the Baltimore-Washington corridor’s commuter routes, such as U.S. 1, the nation’s first highway, and Route 100, which links the area to Glen Burnie and points beyond.

Elkridge is a fast-growing area, offering an abundance of affordable and upscale housing styles, from new-construction townhouses to established single-family homes.


Howard County is considering a proposal to require new single-family houses and apartments to have infrastructure to support charging stations for electric vehicles.

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 and two major floods in recent years. Historic Main Street offers boutique and antique shopping, dining and drinking options in a picturesque setting along the Patapsco River. The oldest surviving railroad station in America now houses the B&O Ellicott City Station Museum on Main Street. Although floods in 2016 and 2018 heavily damaged the historic district, many businesses have reopened, and revitalization efforts are underway.

Beyond Ellicott City’s historic heart, residential neighborhoods with 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 and parkland. In upscale neighborhoods such as Farside, The Chase and The Preserve, home prices often surpass the $1 million mark.

The city, sometimes grouped into one residential region along with neighboring Columbia, is frequently cited as one of the best places to live. Money Magazine, which ranks towns based on criteria including jobs, economy, schools and homes, has listed Columbia and Ellicott City in its top 10 list several times in recent years.


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, is close to shops, antique stores and restaurants, as well as golf courses and the Rocky Gorge Reservoir.

To prevent destructive flooding in the future, Howard County officials have decided to buy up some buildings along Main Street in historic Ellicott City with plans to demolish them. But what is fair market value for property some consider rather unique.

The Maple Lawn community in Fulton — a 600-acre mixed-use development with more than 1,300 townhomes, single-family houses and condominiums — boasts a community center, pool, tennis courts, picnic pavilion and 187 acres of parks and open space. The newest addition to its commercial district, a 100-plus room hotel with meeting space, puts visitors within walking distance of office complexes, restaurants, a grocery store and shopping.

Ranked by Money Magazine as one of the top places to live in the D.C. area, the 570-acre Emerson community in North Laurel, named after 19th-century essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, boasts a clubhouse, pool and tennis courts that serve 1,200 residences.

Nearby, the 137-acre, gated community of Stone Lake – with 98 acres of open space – features a 25-acre lake, a boathouse, spectacular views and a sandy beach.


Once a community focused on a textile mill, the Savage we see today and the renovated Savage Mill shopping center are a dream for antiques collectors and art lovers. Intersecting with the southernmost portion of the Patuxent Branch Trail running along the Patuxent River, it is home to one of the oldest standing iron railroad bridges in the country. Savage is a tight-knit community with churches, a park, a community hall and the annual Savage Fest, held since the 1920s.




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

Howard County Council enacts one-year building moratorium around Ellicott City to study how to prevent major flooding.

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


Whether you are seeking an efficiency apartment or a luxurious single-family home, there are a variety of options for homeowners and renters. Howard County remains a highly desirable area with a strong real estate market, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which tracks home sales throughout the region. The company reported the median price of a home sold in Howard County as about $424,950 in September 2018.

Although costs in this part of the country are higher than average, some assistance is available for those in need. Federally subsidized housing is available through Heritage Housing Partners, which has emphasized the need to include affordable housing in Columbia redevelopment plans and the county.


Columbia Association

410-715-3000, columbiaassociation.org

Heritage Housing Partners Corporation

443-518-7685, hhpcorp.org

Howard County Association of Realtors

410-715-1437, hcar.org

Howard County Planning & Zoning

410-313-2350, howardcountymd.gov/departments

Howard County Housing & Community Development

410-313-6318, howardcountymd.gov/departments


Commuter Connections

Network of transportation organizations that offers information on a range of commuting options, including ride-sharing, bicycling, public transit and more.

commuterconnections.org, 1-800-745-7433

Howard Commuter Solutions

Provides free trip planning, ride-matching and information on public transit.

howardcommutersolutions.com, 410-313-3130

Howard County Bikeshare

Electric-assist and standard bicycles available for nine rental stations in Columbia and Ellicott City.

howardcountybikeshare.com, 844-630-4626

Maryland Transit Authority

Information, links and schedules for a variety of public transportation, including the MARC Train Service’s Camden Line, which runs through Howard County between Baltimore and Washington, expected to reopen after redevelopment at the end of March.



Web-based service that allows travelers to plug in their departure and destination and receive a variety of public transportation options.

mdtrip.org, 877-331-8747

Regional Transportation Authority

Network of central Maryland jurisdictions that helps residents navigate the public transportation system.

transitrta.com, 800-270-9553


Columbia Cab: 410-740-9092, columbiacabhowardco.com

Columbia Taxi Service: 443-668-6666, 240-210-6688, columbiataxiservice.com

Columbia Taxicabs Service: 410-381-8383

Howard County Taxi: 410-983-3999, howardcountytaxicab.com

Ride Taxi: 443-535-3682, howardcountytaximd.com

In this year’s readers’ poll, more than 17,000 voters selected their favorite people, places and organizations across Howard County.

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