Open areas preferred to football stadium


Like many communities, North Laurel is dealing with development that has led to crowded schools and clogged roads.

But unlike other areas, growth in North Laurel could reach monumental proportions almost overnight: Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke wants to build a 78,600-seat stadium nearby. Homeowners say they fear the stadium will lower property values and make North Laurel's traffic and noise problems a nightmare.

"If the Redskins move here, I don't feel like I could get squat for my house," says North Laurel resident Donna Thewes. "I love the Redskins; they belong in D.C."

Redskins representatives say the stadium would not hurt the value of homes. In fact, they say, the stadium project would bring a boost to the local economy and bring needed improvements, especially to roads.

"A number of areas around the proposed site are desperately in need of an infrastructure boost," says Walter Lynch, the Redskins stadium project manager.

North Laurel -- located nearly equidistant from Baltimore and Washington -- sits south of Gorman Road and east of U.S. 29 in Howard County. There is a range of housing -- from mobile homes to single-family detached units costing $300,000 and more. And horse farms and a dairy factory border single-family and townhouse developments.

Those communities didn't come until recent years.

"A hundred years ago, there really wasn't much down there" in Howard County's Laurel, said Joetta Cramm, a local historian who wrote a book on the history of Howard County. "There was just a smattering of homes."

In 1896, signs of future growth emerge, as the land in North Laurel Park was subdivided into quarter-acre lots.

The real growth didn't begin, however, until about 30 years ago, when developers began constructing homes on the open space and would-be homebuyers saw a chance to purchase a house in the suburbs between Baltimore and Washington.

Residents said the Laurel area gave them easy access to government and other jobs.

"It's kind of just finding a house that you like close to where you work," said Judy Haxton, a 25-year North Laurel resident.

The county plans to construct High Ridge Park in the southern part of Laurel in 1998.

That's the only development residents say they want to see. The growth in the area now eats away at the suburban life they sought when they moved into the community.

Residents such as Ms. Thewes say this is not the place for a football stadium.

Traffic studies have shown that many commuters traveling to Redskins games will pass through the North Laurel area, using I-95, U.S. 29 and Gorman Road.

"I live in the suburbs because I want to live away from things like a stadium," she says. "This area is under tremendous growth. A stadium definitely will hurt."

Laurel addresses straddle the Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George's county lines. The city of Laurel is in Prince George's County, while the suburban areas sit in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

Howard County residents designated their part of the city North Laurel, to distinguish it from the other two counties.

The major shopping malls are in the Prince George's County part of Laurel, such as Laurel Lakes Mall, which is about 10 minutes away from the southern part of Howard County's Laurel. People in the northern part of Howard's Laurel usually travel to The Mall in Columbia, which is about 10 minutes away.

The proposed Redskins stadium would be located on the north side of Laurel Race Course in Anne Arundel County, just across the Howard County line.

Closest to that area are the North Laurel Park and Whiskey Bottom neighborhoods, where home prices start about $75,000 for a townhome and in the $120,000 range for older homes, according to Russ Spikes, sales manager and vice president of Melbourne, Feagin and Hammersmith, a Laurel real estate agency.

Recently constructed homes in that area start in the $260,000 range. Newly constructed townhomes in Howard's part of Laurel run in the $150,000 range.

Further north, single-family homes in the Cherry Tree and the Hammond areas of Laurel cost as much as $300,000 and more, Mr. Spikes says.

Developers and homebuilders say they consider North Laurel one of the best locations in Howard County for new home construction.

"I think the area we're building in is the prime area," says Paul Hinkle, co-owner of Cornerstone Homes, which built and sold 47 new homes in North Laurel last year.

About 15,000 people live in North Laurel, 9 percent of the county's population, according the 1990 Census. The median household income for the three Census tracts that make up North Laurel ranges from $41,261 to $62,396. The median household income for the county is $54,348, the highest in the state.

But now developers continue to deplete the remaining open space, and homeowners say the growth has made traffic and noise problems unbearable.

"It used to be a quiet neighborhood," says Patsy Yingling, head of the North Laurel Civic Association.

"My neighborhood is an old-fashioned neighborhood," says Ms. Thewes, who has protested Howard County's only all-nude jTC dance club, which moved just off U.S. 1 in North Laurel about three years ago.

"You borrow cups of sugar. You talk over the fence. It would be rude and obnoxious, if you drove by and didn't honk."


Population: 15,008 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 45 minutes

Public schools: Bollman Bridge Elementary, Forest Ridge Elementary, Hammond Elementary, Laurel Woods Elementary; Hammond Middle, Patuxent Valley Middle; Hammond High School.

Nearest malls: Laurel Lakes Mall in Prince George's County; and The Mall in Columbia.

Points of interest: Laurel Race Course; Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Co-op; Hammond Park, Savage Park, High Ridge Park (to be constructed in 1998).

Average price of single-family home: $221,104

ZIP code: 20723.

* Average price for homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service over the past 12 months

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