Growth goes west, shifts rural life Influx of newcomers spreads urban culture to West End farmland; Learning to coexist; Longtime residents, new neighbors share many of same values


Driving down narrow roads bracketed by woods and farm fields, by houses with trim lawns and two-car garages, Charles C. Feaga pulled onto Frederick Road near Glenwood and headed west.

He eased his Chevrolet onto the shoulder a mile past Route 97, stopping at a weathered mile-marker that guided travelers west from Baltimore in the days before concrete and automobiles.

Feaga, a 65-year-old farmer and Howard County councilman, says these stone markers once could be found all along Frederick Road.

Though several remain, many have vanished -- like parts of bucolic western Howard he cherished decades ago.

"They used to be all over," said Feaga, rubbing the stone, feeling for its inscription. "They've just disappeared, kind of sad. Development and vandals, I guess."

It's a familiar story around Baltimore -- development encroaching on rural landscapes. More cars clogging roads, more "McMansions" growing in old cornfields, more strip malls and convenience stores.

Yet western Howard is weathering change well, many newcomers and longtime residents agree.

Zoning controls on housing density and an agricultural land-preservation program limit growth here. Silos and barns stand on knolls, resisting the westward creep of suburbia.

Though population is expected to more than double, to roughly 63,000, by 2015, when planners say building will end, it will not resemble Columbia.

While longtime residents lament the rush-hour traffic on Routes 97 and 32 and outbreaks of development, their new neighbors share many of the old values.

Enticed by the twisting roads and red barns and cows waddling across green fields, they bought big houses with 3-, 4- or 5-acre lots. They enjoy the woods and creeks, too, but desire more: better schools and better services, including a grocery store or two.

Many now want to raise the drawbridge. Residents have packed meetings to fight a 116-unit condominium complex, the Villas of Cattail Creek in Glenwood, and a planned 98-house project in Dayton.

Bob Buckler is typical of many who have moved to the area. He came 10 years ago to escape growing Montgomery County for better schools, a larger yard with trees and bushes.

A self-employed home designer and homemaker, Buckler sought community centered on children, with parents active in school plays and soccer leagues. He became president of his local homeowners association.

He says things have changed since he arrived. "It's a different kind of person moving out here now," he said. "They're wealthier and both parents work. It's becoming more of a suburb than the rural nature it was."

For all the changes, said Buckler, "I still can't imagine living anywhere better than this."

Selling out

Though areas such as Clarksville are increasingly suburban, west of Route 32 remains mostly farm country. Some longtime residents, who fondly recall when the Columbia area resembled the West End, are encouraging growth themselves.

Martha Clark, 52, used to raise dairy cows but recently sold the herd. Though she loves looking out her bay window toward the Patuxent River valley's trees and grassy slopes, she is pondering the sale of about 130 acres for a housing development.

"For years we've known it was coming, and anyone who didn't was naive," she said. "We have people saying they want rural. But if they really wanted rural, they wouldn't move here. In real rural-like places, you have to drive three hours to find an average-size city."

That residents are seeking a country atmosphere without the country hassles isn't unusual. Even fourth-generation farmers say growth isn't all bad.

"Well, a lot has changed, a lot of development," said farmer Steve Cissel of Lisbon. "Still a lot of farmers, rural feel. But now you can visit a grocery store in 20 minutes, not 40."

At the Country Corner restaurant-deli-convenience store in Lisbon, farmers and natives complain over turkey sandwiches and hamburgers about new voices of power emerging -- the PTAs.

At school plays and soccer fields, parents complain about too much traffic in front of schools.

Those conversations show a slow shift in influence, away from country-types to more suburban-minded mothers and fathers. But many farmers, including David Patrick, believe the rules restricting growth will help preserve their way of life.

One morning before sunrise, Patrick began milking 175 muddycows. They clopped, tails swaying, 16 at a time into narrow metal stalls. There, Patrick and two helpers swabbed the udders with iodine and attached suction cups to vacuum milk into a large tank.

It's hard for Patrick to imagine western Howard as anything but a farming community. His 250 acres are preserved, thanks to a county-sponsored program that has bought the development rights to about 17,000 acres, including most of his neighbors' land. But he still worries a little.

"I do hate to see all the homes around," Patrick said over the thumping metal pistons of the Bou-Matic milking machine. "You see all that good ground developed. But they're almost finished building. So much land has been preserved."

Patrick said he doesn't begrudge people the chance to live here. "I remember when I had Baltimore Colts tickets," he said. "I remember walking to the games and thinking: I don't make a lot of money, and I sure wouldn't want to raise seven kids here."

A former PTA president at Lisbon Elementary School, Patrick likes how the way residents seem so interested in their children, despite complaints from many farmers about pushy new neighbors who complain about farm smells and slow-moving tractors.

'Everything is so far away'

A few miles from Patrick's farm, on a weekday afternoon, three mothers sat on a crest overlooking a soccer field at Lisbon Elementary School. Diane Ferrera, 35, her arms wrapped around her legs, watched her daughter kick soccer balls for the Girls Thunder '88, a community league team.

Ferrera moved here from Massachusetts four months ago because her husband was transferred to another job. They picked Dayton because they could afford a bigger house with some land. Already, she's learned some lessons -- such as planning trips to the grocery store. "Everything is so far away," Ferrera said. "The houses are all further apart."

Despite the inconveniences, Ferrera says, few better places exist in which to raise children. The schools are so good, she says, that her daughter lags behind other students.

Glenwood Middle School PTA President Brenda Von Rauten-krantz says new residents such as Ferrera are the reason parents and teachers have grown more influential in western Howard.

"You mess with our kids, then you're going to suffer for it," said Von Rautenkrantz. "This is a force you don't want to confront. We've moved out here. We've invested so much in our children."

The volunteer firefighters at the Lisbon firehouse see the impact of growth -- but not necessarily the benefits.

"We have to constantly update our maps," said Eric McIntosh, 23-year-old president of the fire company. "Just 15 years ago, we knew everybody, knew where they lived. Now, you hear a call on the scanner and you have no idea."

Some firefighters complain that new residents don't trust the volunteers to do their jobs and sometimes call for ambulances when injuries aren't serious. The firefighters feel their voice in the community -- once the strongest -- has diminished.

Sitting around a table, four volunteers flipped through newspapers while a television anchorman droned in the background. They haven't had a major fire in about a year.

McIntosh said an influx of residents, most with children, hasn't helped recruitment. Most volunteers join during their teens and then abandon the area because they can't afford the increasingly costly housing.

'Envious' of western Howard

Developer Donald Reuwer is responsible for some of that growth. For months, he battled a handful of residents trying unsuccessfully to defeat his plan to build a senior citizens condominium complex in Glenwood.

Reuwer, one of the most controversial figures in western Howard, lives here, too.

"Change is life's only constant," he said. "It's hard to knock what's happening in western Howard. Every county is probably envious."

Even nonresidents who work here have noticed a slight change. For two years, the Rev. Louise Holley, who lives in Baltimore, has tried to rebuild the congregation of a small church off Howard Road in Dayton.

The 90 or so parishioners of Browns Chapel United Methodist Church, mostly blacks, live from northern Montgomery County to Frederick to Glenwood. Many are descendants of laborers who worked on farms and in small industry all over Howard. Many are beyond retirement age.

It's a challenge, Holley says, to keep parishioners together, especially because they usually meet only Sundays.

"I see the development explosion and I'm hoping for a spiritual explosion," said Holley. "Everything is so spread out here. Everything is so scattered. It's hard getting everybody together, but we do."

Not much has changed for Howard County police Pfc. Donald Lundin, who has patrolled western Howard for many of his 25 years on the force. He's noticed an increase in burglaries -- just more houses, he says -- and has seen a new type of resident, more dependent on services.

"There are just more houses, bigger neighborhoods," said Lundin, known as Pops to fellow officers. "The people are basically the same. West End people don't call about knocked-down mailboxes. Newer residents are used to services."

Feaga, the county councilman, agrees a mix of old and new is emerging in western Howard.

After driving home from Glenwood, Feaga stood near his one-story house and eyed his 200-acre farm west of Ellicott City, at Route 144 and Marriottsville Road. He was born here. He grew up here. But his brothers and sisters wanted to sell the farm, and they did. Feaga expects about 80 houses to surround his own in two years.

"If it becomes too different, too developed," Feaga said, "then I might look for a little piece of land out west that's open."

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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