When David Stough bought his home in the Wetherburn subdivision off Old Frederick Road a year ago, he hadn't counted on organizing his neighbors in a fight against the neighborhood's developer.
The problem, Stough says, is not what Donald R. Reuwer Jr. has done, but what he wants to do: develop a business, residential and golfing village on 682 adjoining acres during the next 20 years.
"We're not against growth," says Stough, chairman of a 2-month-old group called Citizens Allied for Rational Expansion. "It's the magnitude of the growth that we oppose."
If approved by the zoning board -- the county zoning office has already given it a preliminary OK -- the Reuwer project would radically change the character of the neighborhood, Stough says.
Ironically, most people opposed to Reuwer's Waverly Woods village idea live, like Stough, in burgeoning Reuwer developments along a half-mile stretch of Old Frederick Road in the part of the county northwest of Ellicott City.
"I've created a monster," Reuwer says with a laugh.
Stough and his neighbors couldn't agree more.
The issue is trust -- or lack of it. Reuwer complains that he hasn't had a fair hearing, and that if he gets one, most people will support the project. Residents say Reuwer is sugar-coating the proposal and is downplaying or omitting what they consider to be its negative aspects.
Most of the more than775 families living in Reuwer developments bought their homes through his American Properties real estate firm.
Some residents protesting Reuwer's plans say American Properties sales agents misled them when they purchased their homes. They say Reuwer's real estate agents told them the area would stay pretty much the same.
The subdivisions Reuwer has developed along Old Frederick Road differ little from some half-acre lot neighborhoods in Columbia -- except they are newer and have seedlings in place of trees and shrubbery. The view from most front lawns is of houses costing $300,000 or more sitting on treeless lots. Wetherburn could be any new, upper middle-class subdivision in America.
Not to Stough. He looks at the ongoing construction assign of things to come if Reuwer is allowed to proceed. He points toa spot where bulldozers cut through a 40-foot-wide growth of mature trees to make a road. He says it is typical of what will occur.
Also typical, he says, is the dirt-caked street and heavy-duty traffic leading up to his cul-de-sac. On this day the street is clogged with cement mixers and 18-wheelers carrying tree stumps and building debris.
At his home a block away, Stough looks out at the rooftop of Waverly Elementary School and says, "It's already overcrowded now, but if this thing comes, we'll have to bring in relocatable classrooms."
Out back, sediment fences abut Stough's yard. Immediately beyond the fences, earth movers prepare a treeless, muddyvalley for more homes.
"I don't plan to live the rest of my life surrounded by construction," says Stough, who owns a company that cleans newly built homes before they are shown to prospective buyers.
One approach to Stough's Wetherburn neighborhood is south on Old Frederick Road from the Marriottsville Road intersection. The property Reuwer wants to develop is on the right. It consists mostly of rollinghills covered with thickets and cornfields. Small groups of mature trees dot the landscape. Across from the property on the left of the road, modest country homes sit on three-acre lots.
The view from the two-lane road continues like this for about a mile, until on the right at the crest of the hill, construction equipment dominates previously unseen landscape. The Waverly Woods and Wetherburn subdivisions that back up to it emerge without warning.
Stough says the whole road will look this for the next 20 years if Reuwer has his way. The road will need to be straightened and widened to at least four lanes to accommodate traffic, he believes.
Reuwer asserts that the impacton Old Frederick Road will be minimal and that his site zoning petition means everything must be developed and built exactly as he says or not at all, but Stough and residents opposed to the project don't believe it.
"Look at the 'For sale' signs along Old Frederick Road and you'll understand how people feel," Stough says.
"Did you know I am responsible for this?" Reuwer says of thepaving and restriping now taking place on Old Frederick Road. "Yeah -- I ordered the State Highway Administration to do it to get ready (for Waverly village)."
He laughs at his exaggeration of his influence. But his joking indicates how different his life is from 10 yearsago, when he was a Baltimore County social studies teacher.
Virtually unknown in Howard County development circles as recently as six years ago, Reuwer is today the major player in the I-70 corridor westof Ellicott City.
He owns and operates both a development companyand a real estate sales office. What his Land Design and DevelopmentInc. develops, his American Properties Inc. markets and sells.
Some of his subdivisions are so new they don't show up on any but the most recent county maps, which may be part of the problem of residentsthinking sales agents have been less than candid. The county development situation is so fluid, sales people have difficulty keeping up with all the changes, Reuwer says.
To help correct the problem, theCounty Council passed a bill April 1, supported by Reuwer, that requires sales agents to give buyers a copy of the General Plan map and suggest they contact the county zoning office about any recent or proposed changes. The law takes effect Oct. 1.
What is true at the time of the sale may have changed by the time residents move in, Reuwer says. He notes, for example, that the county landfill next to the Waverly village property was supposed to become a park, but instead may be expanded. "The only constant is change," he says.
Too much change is what residents at standing-room-only meeting at Waverly Elementary School July 22 accused Reuwer of creating. They called his Waverly project "a little Columbia," saying, in thewords of one resident, "If we wanted to live in Columbia we would have moved there. Town houses, condominiums, industrial parks don't fitin with our area. It doesn't flow."
"If they're comparing me with(Columbia developer) James Rouse, I consider it a supreme compliment," Reuwer says. "Yes, it is going to look like Columbia in the sense that it is planned, but we have learned some things in 22 years. The village it will probably look like most is Harper's Choice."
Harper's Choice contains Hobbits Glen golf course and is near county parksand rural countryside.
Waverly Woods village "is going to be perceived as more open than developed," Reuwer says, because trees, hillycontours and an 18-hole golf course will buffer the development.
Old Frederick Road will remain a meandering, two-lane road, he says, because the impact from the village will be minimal.
Most of the village traffic will use Interstate 70 and enter the village from Marriottsville Road, he says.
As he tours the area, Reuwer, like Stough, points out bulldozers and earth movers at work on the next sectionof the Wetherburn-Waverly subdivision. What he wants you to notice, he says, is how carefully they avoid mature trees, streams and wetlands.
Reuwer is especially sensitive to environmental criticism.
"The contradictions are what get you the most," he says. Like the "Ban clustering, Save the trees!" sign he saw in September when pickets organized by Stough gathered in front of the county office building to protest his proposal.
"Clustering is how you go about saving trees," Reuwer says. "Half-acre zoning is far more harmful to the environment. People look at agricultural land as Eden, but the fertilizer that runs off into streams is far worse" than development.
In the middle and near the southern edge of the village property are two silt-covered ponds . That will change, Reuwer says, because the water quality concepts planned for his development are those used in natural trout streams and will increase the water quality.
"If this (proposal) were all single-family homes and did not include a planned employment center, it would be a slam dunk," Reuwer says.
"If we were pure, greedy developers, the simplest thing for us to do would be to forget the PEC and do it as residential. But that would blow the only water-sewer commercial site in the Frederick-Baltimore corridor -- 6,500 (potential) jobs."
Most of the commercial property that exists along Route 40 is "hideous" because of "uninspired" zoning regulations, Reuwer says. He plans for his to look like a college campus and inspire major corporations to bring their corporate headquarters there,he says.
"There's going to be tremendous open space here. It willnot be perceived as a high-density community." Town houses and apartments, for example, will be hidden inside a clump of woods in a valley in the middle of the property.
Reuwer says mounting criticism from residents is tough but "we know we're doing the right thing. Everybody who has worked with us knows we've done things in a quality manner. We're ready, willing and able to commit to architectural covenants. We keep our promises."