Waterfront residents protect Arundel enclave

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sign up for a newspaper subscription these days and you might get a free month of delivery or a desk calendar.

But in the 1930s, The Washington Post offered a more intriguing gimmick. Buy a subscription and for an extra $25 you got a 20-by-100-foot lot in a waterfront community in Anne Arundel County, just three miles south of Annapolis.

"That's how London Towne was established," says Maryellen O. Brady, who vacationed in the community as a child and moved there year-round in 1968. "They thought of it as a summer place where people could put up a little cottage. It was way out in the boondocks. They never thought of it as a year-round place."

Today, London Towne is an established community of almost 7,000, where residents commute daily to jobs in Washington, Baltimore, Annapolis and elsewhere.

Many of the community's 2,348 homes are converted summer cottages, nestled between newer houses of every architectural style imaginable. Housing in London Towne varies from unheated bungalows, which are boarded up in winter, to expensive contemporaries overlooking the water, which might sell for $400,000.

"It's eclectic," says Mrs. Brady, describing the housing mix. "We've got everything."

The most distinctive characteristic of the mostly working class neighborhood is its 3 1/2 miles of waterfront property, spotted with fishing piers and boat docks. London Towne, which was named Woodland Beach by The Post in 1932, was renamed in 1967 when residents learned it was once a bustling port dating back to the 1700s. Originally named the town of London by its founders, the community is a peninsula bordered by creeks on either side and the South River to the northeast.

Except for five privately owned parcels and the northern tip of the peninsula, which is outside London Towne's borders, the London Towne Property Owners' Association owns waterfront property ringing the entire peninsula. The association's charter, established by The Post, requires waterfront acreage and a clubhouse be maintained for use by all residents, says Mrs. Brady, vice president and immediate past president of the

association.

Community investment

Residents, ever vigilant about their beaches, formed five clubs that compete with each other to maintain the best recreational areas. The community has also invested $125,000 over five years for erosion control.

"There's not many other places where you could have all the benefits of London Towne at such reasonable prices," she says. "It's a jewel."

When Lea and Don Price moved to the community in 1960, they had few neighbors and at least 80 percent of the houses were used only during the summer.

Twelve years later, though, the county brought public sewer service to the area and London Towne started developing rapidly, they say. The subdivision is now almost built out and 95 percent of the houses are used year-round.

But despite all the development, the Prices say, London Towne has maintained a small-town feel, where people know their neighbors and look out for each other.

"It's marvelous," says Mrs. Price, who is retired from the county's YWCA and still active in county activities. "There's security here and not a lot of crime. And the homes are well-kept."

Denise Brown and her family relocated from Alexandria, Va., in 1986 in search of that small-town atmosphere. They say they are satisfied with what they got.

Her children, who were then 8 and 5, had lots to do, including boating, swimming and fishing.

"We looked at eight different communities, all in Anne Arundel County, and we decided that day after talking to some of the neighbors," says Mrs. Brown. "Everyone seemed very friendly. And the fact that the elementary school is in walking distance, it's close to the waterfront, the kids could fish and swim -- those were all pluses."

Clubhouse available

The community association and other local clubs hold regular meetings at the clubhouse, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, bingo, senior citizen activities, church services and teen functions.

"It's not fancy," says Mrs. Brady of the steel and cinder-block clubhouse that somewhat resembles a warehouse. "But there's something here for everyone."

Pauline Taylor, an agent with Long and Foster Real Estate Inc. who has worked in the area for six years, says waterfront privileges are the top selling point in London Towne. Many residents go boating and the community maintains five docks with room for 275 boats.

Easy access to Route 97 and U.S. 50 for commuting into Washington and Baltimore is probably the second selling point, she says. She estimated commuters could make it into Washington or Baltimore within 45 minutes.

Remax agent Kerry Muse, who lives and works in the neighborhood, says residents have worked hard over the years to improve the community.

Neighbors say they have worked to save the community from deteriorating several times.

In the 1960s, when some residents balked at paying $5 per family to maintain the beach areas, and one even took the homeowners association to court, activists responded by organizing and turning London Towne into a special tax district. Payment of association taxes, which vary depending on lot size, now is enforceable through the county government.

In the 1970s, when an arsonist burned down the clubhouse, neighbors raised money to build another, a requirement of the original charter.

And in the 1980s, when drug pushers threatened the safety of the beach areas, the community banded together again. Published news reports describe residents patrolling beach areas, collecting evidence and calling county police repeatedly until they got action. Their efforts resulted in a three-month undercover investigation that culminated in 31 arrests.

"We decided to fight back," says Mrs. Brady. "And it worked."

Some residents say London Towne still has a problem with truants, which they attribute to the proximity of South River Senior High School and the attractiveness of the waterfront parks. Residents have continued to fight, establishing a one-man police department in 1992 to supplement county efforts.

More than $34,000 of the community's $95,000 annual budget now goes to security, but residents say it's worth it.

"People who don't live here shouldn't be on the beaches," says Mrs. Brady. "Those who don't pay anything for maintenance don't have a stake in it. We do."

LONDON TOWNE

Population: 6,992 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 55 minutes

Public schools: Edgewater Elementary School, Central Middle School, South River Senior High School

Shopping: The Annapolis Harbour Center; Parole Plaza, with Sears Roebuck and Co. and Woodward & Lothrop; Safeway on nearby Mayo Road; Giant Food nearby on Route 2

Nearest mall: Annapolis Mall, about 3 miles north

Points of interest: London Town Publik House and Gardens, an 18th-century brick home now a museum with summer programs for children; adjoining Edgewater Park, with recreational facilities and tennis courts; five beaches with swimming, fishing and boating piers (for use by residents only); London Towne Community Hall, which offers regular community activities; nearby Edgewater Library and South County Senior Center, opened in 1990.

ZIP code: 21037

Average price of single-family home *: $112,194

* Average price for houses sold through the Anne Arundel Multiple Listing Service over the past 12 months

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