IN THE PAST FOUR decades, people have been streaming into Carroll County seeking Utopia.
Ever since Sir Thomas More wrote about the mythical island of Utopia in 1516 -- with its perfect political and social system -- people have been striving to create such a society.
Beckoned by a sparsely populated and scenic county, many people migrated into Carroll thinking they could establish a suburban version of Utopia, where they would be insulated from the rest of society's problems.
In this rural fantasyland, everyone would have a couple of acres, low taxes and adequate public services and would be able to enjoy a better quality of life than if they remained in Baltimore or its close-in suburbs.
Most of the newly arrived residents were not wealthy enough to leave their well-paying jobs located in the city behind.
So they straddled two worlds. They worked each day in the greater city but fled to their rural retreat at night.
Now, it is no longer so easy to achieve the good life in Carroll.
Carroll residents are discovering that they really hadn't totally escaped congestion, high taxes, crowded classrooms, poverty and crime.
At best, they have enjoyed a reprieve of a few years, but the economic, social and political problems they had left behind are beginning to catch up to them.
Disappointment and anger
L Many county residents, in turn, feel shortchanged and angry.
In towns such as Hampstead, the public sentiment turned against further growth. This spring, voters installed a new mayor and council whose professed agenda is to stop future development. They're heeding the voters by supporting a lawsuit challenging a development that their predecessors approved. Townspeople don't seem to be discouraged that they face an expensive and protracted legal battle.
In South Carroll, virtually every development now generates opposition.
The noisy and hostile response to a proposed 250-unit moderately priced rental complex in Carrolltowne in South Carroll is evidence of widespread unease and fear.
There are many good reasons -- traffic congestion, school overcrowding and outdated site plans -- to oppose those units. Yet one cowardly soul decided to ignite opposition by circulating a flier suggesting that criminals would occupy the units. Of course, that struck the community's raw nerve -- that the urban ills are tailing them to bucolic Carroll.
Most of the community distanced itself from the repulsive flier, but fear of crime is a ever present subtext in all discussions about growth.
Even an adult day care and residence center, a benign facility if there ever was, became a lightning rod for development opponents. Several dozen Taylorsville residents want to stop the proposed project that would occupy a house on Route 27 near Sams Creek Road. The center would provide round-the-clock care for five adults and also day care for 10 additional adults.
Neighbors opposed to the project have expressed concern that residents of the center might wander off the premises and harm children at a nearby bus stop.
Apparently, nobody stopped to think about what they were saying.
In just about every other jurisdiction, most enfeebled seniors are worried about as potential crime victims. Why people think that a dozen gray-haired people at the end of their lives would become criminals in this county is puzzling -- as well as revealing.
The evils of growth
Irrationality has become an integral part of the public debate over growth. Growth has come to mean something bad, dangerous or life-threatening.
Certainly, the unplanned and sprawling growth that is overwhelming Eldersburg is bad.
But it is a mistake to extrapolate from Eldersburg that all growth is bad.
At present, the majority of Carroll's population would like all development to grind to a halt. These people believe that if the housing construction were to stop, they could preserve their idealized vision of this county.
Stagnant communities die.
Look west toward Allegany County. It doesn't have a growth problem. In fact, it has lost population.
If properly planned, new development doesn't have to detract from a community. New residential communities and businesses have enhanced the commercial, social and civic life of this county.
Without the population increase of the past two decades, Carroll would not have a community college.
Residents would not have the convenience or the selection of retail stores that offer everything from gourmet foods to hardware.
Carroll County General Hospital would be a small hospital capable of caring for only the most routine illnesses and accidents.
Growth will continue to be part of Carroll's future.
More people and buildings may not create a Utopia in Carroll, but neither will they destroy a community that never existed, except in many people's imaginations.
Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.