Harford County has some of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the Baltimore metropolis. Nearly 15 percent of the area's new housing is mushrooming up along Interstate 95 through Edgewood and Joppa, up Route 24 to Bel Air.
These are Harford's growth corridors, an inverted "T," with one end at Aberdeen Proving Ground and the other in Bel Air. The development is dense, dominated by townhomes. The commercial growth has been just as intense.
But just a few miles and barely minutes away, in Fallston, the few homes still being built are going on sprawling lots of two or more acres. Commercial development is slight. The community has clung determinedly to its small-town character despite several decades of morphing from farms to bedroom subdivisions.
And Fallston will likely stay the way it is, according to population projections by Harford County planners. The number of households in the Fallston planning area is projected to rise only 7 percent over the next 15 years, according to the county. Because of a forecast of smaller household sizes, population could actually decline over that period.
Which is just fine with many of the folks of Fallston, a community bisected by Maryland 152 that hugs the Harford-Baltimore County line.
"The area would like to keep its rural flavor," said Richard Black, a real estate appraiser and Fallston resident who has been working with others in the community on the update of Harford's land-use plan.
"You're living in the country," said Warren Coffmann, an electrical contractor, "but you're close enough to all the amenities of life."
Fallston is a creature of suburban migration, a reminder of how post-World War II highway construction made the hinterlands accessible to city dwellers. Many of those who live in Fallston today grew up on the east side of Baltimore. It's not unusual, says Realtor Hope Koch of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn -- a Fallston resident -- to run into people that you last saw in high school in Baltimore and Baltimore County.
Those who were in the first wave of suburbanites remember a Fallston without the stop-lights, an enclave that was closer to its roots as an agrarian settlement.
"It's changed a lot," said Geneine Shaw, an 18-year resident, who recalled the days when the only subdivision was Rochelle Meadows, near the intersection of Old Fallston Road and Maryland 152. But she adds: "It's not bad. They're keeping it the way I wanted it."
The newest homes in Fallston tend to be the most expensive, in part because of land-use controls that have boosted lot sizes. In 1995, there were 87 Fallston sales reported to the region's multiple-list service, with an average settlement price of $204,552. In comparison, the 2,056 Harford County multiple-list sales last year averaged just under $137,000.
The more expensive Fallston homes come with generous amounts of land that would be either unavailable closer in or more expensive. An 8-year-old, five-bedroom ranch on Watervale Road with about eight acres sold for $413,000. A new, four-bedroom Colonial on approximately 2.5 acres on Haddon Hurst sold for $387,000.
Of the homes that sold for under $200,000, the median age of the dwelling was in the mid-20s. Many of those buying are families with children who are filling the recreational programs that abound in Fallston, and occupy a major complex next to Youths Benefit Elementary School.
The community's reputation for good schools has proven a significant draw to young parents.
"Everybody out here's having a baby," said Ellie Vollerthum.
Youths Benefit has an abundance of first-graders, and Linda Brundrett, a teacher and Fallston resident, said she has 26 in her class.
"Historically, the schools have had a very good success rate," said Mr. Black, the appraiser, noting that the public schools have a high level of parental participation. Traditionally, more than 90 percent of Fallston students have gone on to college.
Before the suburbs came to Fallston, it was a farm town that grew slowly in the 19th century near Little Gunpowder Falls, on the rail line. According to C. Milton Wright's "Our Harford Heritage," the name "Fallston" was probably derived from the Little Falls Friends Meeting, which was established in 1738 and moved in the mid-1700s from near the Little Gunpowder to its present location, off Old Fallston Road. The Wright narrative describes Fallston in the late 19th century as "no more than a country settlement with a few scattered homes, three stores, two shoemaker shops and a blacksmith shop." St. Mark's Catholic Church was founded in the late 1880s.
Fallston residents would catch the old Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad and ride to Baltimore to shop, according to Delta Sewell, a longtime resident. "It was just a small train, and it had all these local stops."
Today, Interstate 95 and U.S 1 are the unromantic successors to the Ma & Pa, the railroad having ceased operations in the 1950s. Fallston's location makes it a relatively painless commute. Most residents learn the back-road shortcuts to Hunt Valley soon enough, and Baltimore is no more than a 45-minute trip, if you wait for the Beltway traffic to subside. Philadelphia can be
reached in 70 minutes, according to Ms. Koch.
"I know people who are commuting to Wilmington," Mr. Black said.
Perhaps more importantly, it is a quick trip to Harford's malls and restaurants.
"I'm eight to 10 minutes from the heart of Bel Air," Mr. Coffmann estimates.
Despite Fallston's easy access to retail crossroads and other urban services, Mr. Black says his friends keep telling him that "We're really out in the sticks."
L But, he said, "I notice they keep coming back out to visit."
Population: 15,636 (Harford Co. Planning Dept.)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes.
Public schools: Youths Benefit Elementary School, Fallston Middle School, Fallston High School
Shopping: Cross Roads Station Shopping Center, Bel Air Town Shopping Center, Bel Air Plaza
Nearest malls: Harford Mall, Tollgate Mall, Fallston Mall, White Marsh Mall
Points of interest: Gunpowder Falls State Park, Fallston Airport, Fallston Recreational Complex, Winter's Run Golf Club.
ZIP code: 21013, 21047
Average price of single-family home: $204,552*
* Based on 87 sales in 1995 through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies