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Farms giving way to homes and stores


*TC Perhaps nowhere else is the image of rural Harford County's changing landscape better drawn than in the patchwork of cornfields and housing developments, barns and convenience stores, farmhouses and public library that are pieced together along Route 152, through the heart of Fallston.

Thirty years ago, these 50 square miles southwest of Bel Air were all farmland. Today, dozens of housing developments are mixed among the cornfields that line a 10-mile stretch of this busy roadway that leads to Interstate 95.

A small core of farmers still make their living here. But most of the newer residents in Fallston's estimated 3,500 households commute to jobs in Baltimore. Community life that once revolved around agriculture now is focused on the extensive sports programs for young people offered through the Fallston Recreation Council.

"The rec programs are almost like a gathering point for families," said Marby Kelly, an associate broker with Prudential Preferred Properties in Bel Air who has lived in Fallston for 21 years. "I bet almost every kid in Fallston plays some kind of sport. And there's a lot of parent involvement."

These sports activities -- along with a 75-acre recreational complex, three public schools and the library -- have attracted many families with children. The Fallston Club swimming pool is a popular gathering place during the summer.

There are day-care facilities, before- and after-school care and a nursery school here. There are physicians' offices, churches of many denominations and several popular restaurants, including Josef's Country Inn, Logo's and the Heritage Tea Room.

The area has a hospital -- Fallston General -- and its own volunteer fire company. Plans for another recreation complex for the area are also being considered.

"Fallston is very community-based and family-oriented," Mrs. Kelly said. "Most people who live here don't want to move out of the area. There's a tendency to move up in houses but stay in the community. Usually the only reason people leave is that they're older, the house is too big and there's too much yardwork."

Located 10 to 15 minutes from Bel Air, Fallston has acquired a reputation as one of Harford County's more prestigious neighborhoods with single-family homes in a semirural setting.

Prices range from $130,000 to more than $600,000 for bilevels, split levels, ranchers and two-story Colonials on half- to 10-acre lots.

The large lots add to what some residents call Fallston's "quiet" atmosphere and "wide open" appeal. Because of the prices, there are few first-time homebuyers. Most developments have restrictions governing house size, design and exterior improvements that are intended to preserve property values.

"Fallston is a leader in Harford County in both sale price and home size," said Sharon Beam, an associate broker with Prudential Preferred Properties. "Some of Harford County's higher-priced neighborhoods are in the Fallston area. It's hard to get anything built for under $300,000 because of the lot prices." The cost of a lot ranges from $85,000 to $150,000, real estate agents said.

The community is zoned for agriculture and low-density development, so there are no townhouses or apartment buildings. Residents do not have public water or sewers, relying instead on wells and septic systems. Zoning has clustered most businesses along Route 152 at Route 165 and at Pleasantville Road.

'Good planning'

"There's been a lot of good planning in Fallston," said Joanne S. Parrott, a Harford County Council member whose District B includes Fallston -- where she and her family have lived since 1975. "Fallston has retained its rural ambience."

This once exclusively agricultural community has been evolving into a more suburban area since the early 1960s, when the first scattered farms were sold. The pace of development has been (( gradual but steady and continues today in communities such as Haddon Hurst. The earliest developments had fewer and smaller homes; communities built in the past few years tend to be larger.

Before development began, there were between 30 and 50 working farms in the area, according to Bill Harlan, owner of the 100-acre Belvedere Farm on Pleasantville Road. Now, he said, there are half that number. "There's been a loss of the country feeling out here," said Mr. Harlan, who is 53 years old.

Some residents are concerned about how continued growth will affect the water supply in Fallston. And some farmers say that misunderstandings have arisen now that farmers and subdivision residents are neighbors. Trespassing on farm fields to hunt, drive four-wheelers and dump trash has become a growing concern.

Farmers vs. newcomers

There have been objections to some farming activities, such as spreading of manure on fields. And farmers sometimes meet with resistance if they want to sell their property.

Belvedere Farm has been in the Harlan family since 1825. Mr. Harlan grew up there and moved back 10 years ago after his father's death. He and his wife, Judy, run a roadside farm market from July through October. They also raise and sell wheat, corn, hay and straw, and give farm tours for children in the spring and fall. "I couldn't bear to see the place sold," he said.

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