One of Harford County's hottest housing developments is one of its oldest -- Howard Park.
A community of about 400 ranch homes off Route 24 in Bel Air, Howard Park provides consistent and constant competition to newer townhouses being built throughout the county, according local real estate agents.
The 40-year-old ranchers, most with basements and either two or three bedrooms, don't hit the market that often, but when they do, they tend to sell fast, and often for the asking price or more, said Phyllis Giese, a Realtor with the Forest Hill office of O'Conor Piper and Flynn ERA. With prices ranging from $80,000 to about $130,000, these single-family homes often are as affordable as newer townhouses in Abingdon, Bel Air, Forest Hill and other parts of the county, Giese said.
"It's an extremely popular community, where the homes sell rather quickly," said Giese, who recently listed a three-bedroom house on Atwood Road at $82,000, and it sold in a month. That's about five months faster than the resale housing industry average of about six months, she said.
That's an impressive record for one of Harford County's first communities, carved out of the Heavenly Waters property owned by Dr. Howard Kelly, whose mansion, the Liriodendron, serves as a cultural focal point on the northwest tip of the community. The mansion, built in 1898, is now owned by Harford County, which rents the building at the end of West Gordon Street for banquets and other affairs. Heavenly Waters remains Bel Air's largest open-space area.
In the 1950s, Kelly subdivided a portion of his property -- encompassing Route 24 to the west, Gordon Street to the north, Hays Street to the east and Business Route 1 to the south -- into about 400 rancher-style homes with building lots of between a quarter- and half-acre on streets he named after his children and their friends -- names including Brooks, Catherine, Kelly, Reed, Atwood and Gordon.
With public water and sewerage and off-street parking, the houses sold for between $8,000 and $16,000. In those days, Bel Air was the commercial center for the largely agricultural county.
In the intervening years, Bel Air has grown up, the county's population has more than doubled and the community has become more accessible to Baltimore because of the widening of U.S. 1 and the creation of Route 24, which connects with Interstate 95 near Edgewood.
Located within the town limits of Bel Air, the county seat of about 11,000 residents, children attend the public schools bearing the town's name, and residents can walk to Harford Mall, Tollgate Market Place and Bel Air Plaza, the main shopping areas in the town.
After living in an apartment complex in Abingdon, Jesse and Margaret Smith were looking for a townhouse to move into last year. Then they stumbled on Howard Park.
"We liked it a lot," Jesse Smith recalled. "It's a real comfortable area, with lots of nice people all around. It's close to everything, the mall, the mansion and places for us to walk."
The quarter-acre property they bought in November 1997 affords the retirees a place for Margaret Smith to garden, and where their 13 grandchildren can play, but it isn't large enough to fill their time with maintenance activities, he said.
"We got everything we wanted in a townhouse and more here," added Margaret, who likes being less than a mile from their church on Route 924.
For Tom Bradley, moving into his house on Kelly Avenue in Howard Park meant coming home. Four years ago, he bought the house where he grew up, after having lived elsewhere in Harford County for four years.
"I knew the house; I knew Bel Air; and I knew this was where I wanted to raise my family," said Bradley, a Harford County employee and a 1982 Bel Air High School graduate.
Bradley, his wife, Jane, who graduated from C. Milton Wright High School, just outside Bel Air, and their three children -- Megan, 15, Andrew, 9, and Sean, 8 -- have found "a lot of what I remembered of the area," Bradley said.
As have most of the veteran residents of Howard Park, Bradley has noticed a few changes in recent years, however.
He notes a steady stream of traffic in the neighborhood, even though there is nowhere for new development to occur. Instead, the streets of Howard Park have become a frequently used shortcut to the heavily used Business U.S. 1. Bradley said he also has noticed that a growing number of the people who lived in the community when he grew up have been moving away, tired of the strains and demands of keeping up the large properties.
In their place have come first-time homebuyers, some of whom work in Bel Air and like the easy pedestrian commute to work each day.
"There's a slow turnover going on," Bradley said, mentioning names of several older residents who have recently moved. "You can see it as you look around."
That trend, according to several real estate agents, will mean more houses in Howard Park being sold and increased interest in the already popular community.
"It's definitely a seller's area," said Giese.
ZIP code: 21014
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes
Public schools: Bel Air High, Bel Air Middle, Homestead-Wakefield Elementary
Shopping: Harford Mall, Bel Air Plaza
Homes on market: 5
Average listing price: $114,740*
Average sales price: $112,780*
Sales price as a percentage of listing: 98%*
RTC Average days on market: 73*
* Based on 5 homes sold in the last year as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.
Pub Date: 12/13/98