Finksburg's country setting lures families Large lots, access to metropolitan area are key selling points

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Kit and David Bloom moved to Finksburg 11 years ago, they were happy to find a house in rural surroundings that still allowed Mr. Bloom a short commute to his job in nearby Owings Mills.

Searching for a place to raise their family, the Blooms left the city of Frederick for a Cape Cod home with a wooded area on the back and just a few miles from the Liberty Reservoir.

"It was so peaceful and open," Mrs. Bloom recalled.

A decade, one highway and an indeterminate number of housing developments later, David and Linda White settled into a four-bedroom Colonial in Finksburg last fall. Like the Blooms, the Whites wanted to live in a country setting that offered an easy commute.

"It's hard to believe you can live on a lot with three acres and be at work within 10 to 15 minutes, at Owings Mills [Mall] in 15 minutes and at the airport in 35 minutes," said Mr. White, senior vice president of business systems and distribution at London Fog Corp. in Eldersburg.

Easy access to a metropolitan workplace and the trappings of city life without the costs -- financial and otherwise -- remain Finksburg's biggest selling points, according to Gwenn Bockelmann, a Realtor with O'Conor Piper & Flynn in Westminster.

That Finksburg has managed to retain some of its country flavor is an added bonus, she said.

The first major pocket of development motorists see as they leave Interstate 795 for Route 140, Finksburg continues to attract buyers from communities that have reached their saturation point, as well as families relocating from out-of-state.

Mrs. Bockelmann said Finksburg homebuyers pay, on average, $5,000 to $10,000 more than other Carroll County purchasers for their property's proximity to the Baltimore-Washington area. In many cases, the buyers are professionals who work in Hunt Valley, Towson or Baltimore, she said.

"They're willing to travel an extra 10 to 15 minutes to be out of the congestion. I think buyers are just looking for the space -- the feeling of open ground."

That said, Mrs. Bockelmann decries a stereotype of Finksburg -- which paints the unincorporated area as the home of Carroll's least attractive commercial developments and an ever-changing core of transitional residents, all busy working their way up the corporate ladder and toward a transfer to a new city.

Though it does not have some of the services found in Carroll's towns, as far as housing and quality of life are concerned, "there's something for everybody in Finksburg," Mrs. Bockelmann said.

Home prices range from under $100,000 to $400,000 and higher. The majority of homes are priced around $200,000. About a third of what's available is new, she said.

David and Linda White, who moved to Finksburg from a small town halfway between Roanoke, Va., and Greensboro, N.C., paid $330,000 for their 3,500-square-foot home off Deer Park Road.

Mr. White said he felt the price was fair. It even included the previous owner's John Deere lawn tractor.

Most of the developments in Finksburg -- from the mobile home community, Hillandale Homes, at the northernmost edge of the area to the golf-course community River Downs -- are situated away from the main thorough-fares of Routes 140 and 91. Developments usually range from 15 to 50 lots, resulting in closely-knit neighborhoods.

River Downs, conceived by developer Gaylord Brooks, is Finksburg's most exclusive community. Nestled off Route 91, River Downs offers a choice of three builders -- Talles Homes, Shelley Companies and Ashley Custom Homes.

Managing growth

Carlyn Feldman, who represents Talles Homes, said the 130 lots the community all measure a little more than two acres. Home prices range from $300,000 to $500,000.

Thirty lots have been sold, and some homes and the golf course have already been constructed, Ms. Feldman said.

Carroll County's lot-size requirements -- which tend to keep properties outside towns at one to four acres -- and Finksburg's proximity to the Liberty Reservoir will prevent the community from developing into the next Owings Mills, Mrs. Bockelmann said.

"But we're not going to get away from growth in this county," she said.

After six weeks of looking at property in other Carroll communities and Howard County, Mr. White said he is pleased with the way officials have handled Finksburg's growth. "I would say they've done a better job of controlling growth, of making sure the houses aren't jammed together," he said.

A little history

In the eyes of longtime local businessman Don Frazier, however, Finksburg's face has been forever altered by the community's continuing development. Mr. Frazier and his brother, Jim, operate Frazier Machine Shop Inc., founded in 1956 by their father, Joseph, in what had long been the heart of Finksburg.

The village itself was established in 1810 when Adam Fink opened a tavern to serve turnpike travelers.

Finksburg continued to grow after the Western Maryland Railway was built in 1862, becoming an important railroad stop until the turn of the century, according to county historical records.

When Route 140 went through in 1954, the new road bypassed Finksburg's center, Mr. Frazier said.

As post offices in nearby communities closed, Finksburg's ZIP code area expanded. Today, it stretches from the Liberty Reservoir and the Baltimore County border to Deer Park Road, encompassing several strip malls and housing developments.

"I talk to people that live in Gamber, Sandymount and Patapsco that think they live in Finksburg," Don Frazier laughed. Newcomers' lack of knowledge about the area saddens him.

When Mr. Frazier was younger, most people in Finksburg were acquainted and almost everyone worked at the now-defunct Congoleum Corp. plant or one of a few other local manufacturing firms.

'Retail and residents'

"Now, there's retail and residents, and that's about all," he said. Few of the new residents attend the area's community Christmas party, sponsored by local businesses for the past 75 years. Mr. Frazier is sure many of them don't even know about the it.

Though he accepts the shopping centers and other changes time has brought, "I sort of long for the days when I was a kid," Mr. Frazier said.

He and his wife, Robin, left Finksburg for Manchester because homes are less expensive there, so he understands the newer jTC residents' decision to move to Finksburg but work at better-paying jobs in the metropolitan area, he said. But it still took Mr. Frazier a while to get used to seeing houses on once-wooded property where he hunted as a boy.

Wildlife still found in area

Still, rapid development has not driven all the wildlife out of the area. Kit Bloom said deer routinely visit her backyard apple tree -- to the delight of her daughters.

Mrs. Bloom and her husband also have more serious reasons for liking the area, including the school system and the myriad social activities available that create a sense of community for Celeste, 13, and Emily, 11. Both were Girl Scouts and now are active in 4-H. Emily rides horses at local stables, and Celeste is learning pottery in the studio of a nearby artisan.

The Blooms recently put their home on the market, but they don't plan to leave Finksburg. Instead, they're searching for an old farmhouse in the area.

"In the 10 years that we've been here, there's been a lot of effort to improve the neighborhoods," Mrs. Bloom said.

"There are a lot of nice houses being built out here, and we do have a much stronger community than people are aware of. There are a lot of people who've chosen to live in Finksburg because it's a community where you can raise your family."

Finksburg

Population: 16,079 (Carroll County Department of Planning)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 25 minutes

Public schools: Sandymount Elementary School, West Middle School, Westminster High School

Shopping: Finksburg Plaza Shopping Center.

Nearest mall: Carrolltowne Mall in Eldersburg, Cranberry Mall in Westminster, Owings Mills Mall

ZIP code: 21048

Average price of a single-family home: $167,000 *

* Based on 101 sales during the past 12 months through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc.

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