Howard County has 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:
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 Rouse's vision for this "new town" included racial diversity, religious sharing and environmentally conscious development — forming 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 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 being redeveloped by Howard Hughes Corp., bringing thousands of new residences and businesses to the Town Center. Recently, the historic Rouse Building was renovated to house a Whole Foods Market and a spa and wellness center. Construction is underway on a multistage renovation of Merriweather Post Pavilion and the crescent of land surrounding the concert venue. Developers hope to make downtown Columbia more walkable and give it an urban feel.
CLARKSVILLE AND HIGHLAND
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, plus a smattering of restaurants, shops and businesses. 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, 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, creating an intersection between past and present. Elkridge is one of the fastest-growing areas in Howard County, offering an abundance of affordable and upscale housing styles.
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 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 Railroad Museum. Some Main Street businesses remain closed as they rebuild from damage caused by a 2016 flood, but many have reopened.
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, school and homes, has listed Columbia and Ellicott City in its top 10 list several times in recent years.
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, is close to shops, antique stores and restaurants, as well as golf courses and the Rocky Gorge Reservoir.
The Maple Lawn community in Fulton — a 600-acre development intended to include 1,100 homes, a 100-plus-room hotel, community center, pool, tennis courts and 78 acres of parks and open space — unites residences with shops and restaurants in the still-growing community's downtown.
The Emerson community, opened little more than a decade ago and named after 19th-century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, includes a 570-acre development by General Growth Properties with 1,200 homes. Nearby, gated community Stone Lake sits on 137 acres and features a 25-acre lake.
Once a community focused on a textile mill, the Savage we see today and the renovated Savage Mill shopping center are an antiques and art lover's dream. Still considered a small town, Savage is a tight-knit community with churches, a park, a community hall and the annual Savage Fest, held since the 1920s.
WESTERN HOWARD COUNTY
The towns of Glenelg, Glenwood, Cooksville, Lisbon and West Friendship were once farming areas where communities were centered around churches and schools.
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 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.
Local housing trends include the "active adult community" for residents 55 and older, and senior living communities that offer independent and assisted-living options along with nursing care. There are numerous senior developments, including Lutheran Village at Miller's Grant, a community of 240 homes set on 50 acres in Ellicott City. 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, 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 median price of a home sold in Howard is about $400,000, according to the Maryland Association of Realtors.
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 the Columbia Housing Corp., which has emphasized the need to include affordable housing in Columbia redevelopment plans, and the county.
HOUSING RESOURCES (Organizations)
Columbia Housing Corp.
Howard County Association of Realtors
Howard County Planning & Zoning
Howard County Housing & Community Development