Affordable homes are transforming old industrial hub


The diesel fumes are unmistakable as you pass the Overnite and A.P.A. truck terminals on U.S. 1. in Elkridge, and there's no missing the rusting hulks in Calton's salvage yard.

As for the one-time tourist motels that pepper U.S. 1 -- the Tip-Top, Executive, and White Elk -- age and the occasional tuckered trucker seem their only friends.

But Elkridge is hardly a forgotten industrial wasteland. Its skyline and demography are in the middle of a transformation. New condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes are joining Elkridge's hodgepodge of busy truck terminals, warehouses and factories.

Housing developers are so taken with Elkridge that what was once seen as a grimy industrial hub is being transformed into a locus for new, mid-priced housing.

"The growth here has just been phenomenal," said Ray Miller, president of the Elkridge Community Association.

That growth -- and the issue of how to balance new homes against industrial development -- are at issue tonight at the Howard County Planning Board.

The panel is expected to vote on a proposal by Blue Stream Partnership Ltd. of Ellicott City to build a modular home community just off U.S. 1.

"I'm quick to tell people thinking of buying a home in Elkridge to look before you leap," said Joseph Rutter Jr., director of the the county Planning and Zoning Department. "It's largely an industrial area, and it's going to stay that way. Otherwise, the next thing you know, people will be asking us to do something about all the trucks on Route 1."

Nevertheless, new residents continue to flow into the Elkridge area, roughly defined by Interstate 95 to the west, the old Baltimore & Ohio rail line to the east, Route 100 to the south and the Howard-Baltimore County line to the north.

Since 1990, about 7,300 new residents have moved to the area. New-home developments under way or planned are expected to bring another 2,200 new households and 6,000 new residents to the Elkridge area by 2000, the planning department says.

Meanwhile, new job growth in Elkridge is expected to jump 50 percent in the next 10 years to 18,000.

To accommodate the growing population, the county built and opened a new Elkridge library in 1993 and a new senior center is scheduled to open soon -- projects longtime Elkridge residents sought for many years.

Also, residents are gaining support from public officials in efforts to persuade the Postal Service to build a post office for the booming area.

"Elkridge has really gone through something of a renaissance in the past five years," said Earl Armiger, co-author in the 1970s of a plan to revitalize Elkridge.

Mr. Armiger is president of Orchard Development of Ellicott City, one of several companies building new homes in Elkridge.

He is among those who expects residential growth to continue throughout the remainder of the decade in Elkridge, a community whose roots reach back to the 18th century when it was one of the most important deep water ports in Maryland until a flood altered the Patapsco River in the late 1700s.

"There's really nowhere else in [Howard County] where you can build homes in as affordable a range as you can in Elkridge," he said.

Three factors are driving the growth, said Mr. Armiger:

L * Housing prices considerably lower than the county average.

L * Accessibility to jobs in Baltimore City and Howard County.

* New public elementary and middle schools in the area.

"We expect to see extensive residential development in Elkridge for the next several years," said Mr. Rutter.

New subdivisions in Elkridge include:

* Springleaf, a community of 74 townhouse condominiums being built by Orchard Development off Montgomery Road. Homes are priced between $97,990 and $105,000.

* Melbourne Estates, a neighborhood of 22 detached three- and four-bedroom homes built by Lovell Regency of Duckett's Lane, and priced from $170,000 to $200,000.

* Hanover Crossing, a community of 55 detached three- and four-bedroom homes off Hanover Road, built by Lovell Regency and priced from $170,000 to about $200,000.

County planning records show that at least four other new-home developers have submitted preliminary plans of Elkridge projects for review.

All of the developers are proposing building single-family detached homes -- 192 total.

The county expects to approve 360 new homes this year in the Northeast school region of the county, which includes Elkridge.

Conflicts sometimes come up as residential development encroaches on a traditionally industrial area.

For example, Blue Stream is seeking to rezone 34 acres just off U.S. 1. and Port Capital Drive now zoned for light manufacturing, to develop a community of 250 modular homes.

County planners and the school board have objected to the proposal, saying area schools can't accommodate the new growth.

But David Carney, a Columbia lawyer representing the group, argues that the property no longer is suitable for industrial development because it wraps around a new modular home community being developed by the Aladdin Village mobile home park.

Whether the planning board approves the proposal or not, Blue Stream highlights the strong interest developers have taken in Elkridge in the past several years.

Northeastern Howard is expected to be one of the county's biggest boom regions for new homes, rivaled only by the western school region, between now and 1998, planning records show.

Karen Krupsaw, vice president for marketing for Lovell Regency, an Annapolis homebuilder, says the company has found strong interest from buyers in its two Elkridge communities.

A majority of those buyers hold jobs in either Baltimore City or Howard County -- a demographic pattern other builders, such as Mr. Armiger, has seen as well.

"We'd love to find some more land in Elkridge to build on," said Ms. Krupsaw. "Unfortunately it doesn't seem there's any left."

But the undeveloped land that remains, including the 79-acre South Charles property where the Blue Stream project proposes to build, is zoned for industrial use, county planning records show.

And Mr. Rutter, the county's chief planner, wants it to stay that way.

The county, he said, needs a ready inventory of developable industrial land so it can attract new industry to balance the high cost of providing services to the thousands of new residents expected in the county in the years ahead.

County planners also want to keep a tight rein on new commercial development in the area.

Although planners does not expect to approve strip shopping centers, Mr. Rutter said, the county several years ago approved the Elkridge Corners commercial project at U.S. 1 and Montgomery Road, where Blockbuster Video, Pizza Hut and other shops service the flush of new residents.

Mr. Armiger, the builder, sees that mix of industry and homes as healthy.

"What you'll have is a much more vibrant community," he said.

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