Despite all the development that's occurred, Sweet Air is still the kind of place where your next-door neighbor will lend you a donkey.
When the Rev. Katherine Heflin, pastor of the Union United Methodist Church, needed some farm animals for her church's live nativity scene, Tracy Hurline graciously responded by lending her cousin's donkey, Jack, and a calf from her own farm.
"After performing at Union, she became an experienced nativity calf, so we sent her over to St. John Lutheran's nativity scene," Hurline said.
In Sweet Air, a community in northern central Baltimore County, Hurline's way of life still goes on while development sprouts all about her.
"People move here because they like the countryside, the convenience, and the schools," explained Lynn Creager, an agent in the Phoenix office of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. "There's a tremendous demand for land and homes in Sweet Air and it increases every year."
New developments like Misty Valley and Margaret's Hill are all sold out, according to Creager.
Jack Heisler lives down the road from the Hurline farm. He's lived in Sweet Air for five years and is typical of the professionals who have moved into the area.
"It has a real country feel," said Heisler, an attorney in Towson who has a young family, "When I get up in the morning, I see the sun rising over a cornfield." Heisler is in the process of selling his home, but plans to stay in the neighborhood. "It's only a 19-minute drive to my office," he added.
Tracy Hurline and her husband, Albert, own a 70-acre dairy farm off Sweet Air Road and have observed the change in their neighborhood with concern and a sense of humor.
"We're the token farmers," Tracy Hurline laughed. "But it's our lifestyle and we're going to keep on doing it." While many dairy farms have disappeared, the Hurline operation has survived because the couple don't have the debt load from land and equipment that a lot of other farmers have.
"They naturally aren't familiar with the country or farm practices," Hurline said of the newcomers.
It's especially dangerous for the Hurlines to operate farm equipment along Sweet Air Road. "Our land isn't one big parcel; we have to move our equipment from place to place," she said, "and nobody knows what a hand signal is, maybe they don't teach that in driving school anymore."
Hurline is amazed that with a development full of children next door, not one has come over to look at the cows or asked if they could help out.
"They seem totally not interested in farms," said Hurline, who would be glad to show them around. She feels there probably will always be a conflict between her lifestyle and the developments.
"They want the scenic value, but God forbid if you spread manure," she remarked. Sweet Air has land available to build upon and the houses are expensive and large. Prices for these new homes, which are mostly Colonial in style, range from $300,000 to $500,000.
"I not only wonder who owns them but I really wonder who cleans them," Hurline said. "Many of the owners have been transferred to the area by their companies and some of them are local businessmen," said Steve Ferreri of Satinwood Homes. With his partner, David Buckley, Ferreri has built 25 custom homes in the area, including three in a new development called Kimberly, off Manor Road.
"The 3-acre lots that are available alone can cost up to $200,000," Ferreri said. "Most of our houses are in the 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot range with at least four bedrooms and three full baths." The new homes all have at least two fireplaces, a kitchen with custom cabinetwork and granite counters.
While families such as the Hurlines have put down roots in Sweet Air, many of the new homeowners don't plan on staying because of the transient nature of their jobs. "Resale is a big concern in the design of the house," Ferreri said. A family room, a study and an extra bedroom are always included along with a finished basement.
Although Sweet Air is in the countryside, it has the added advantage of convenient shopping at the junction of Sweet Air Road and Jarrettsville Pike. "Everything you need is there," said Carolynn Lazaro, an agent with Long and Foster's Timonium office. Gasoline stations, drugstores, banks, a supermarket and a McDonald's are less than five minutes away.
It may be hard to imagine now, but this quiet area was once an important social center of the county, having been part of an original land grant given to a branch of the Carroll family.
Sweet Air is named after the Carroll landholdings in their native Ireland. In 1750, a three-story brick Georgian home on Sweet Air Road was built by Roger Boyce and was subsequently purchased in 1785 by Henry Hill Carroll. His grandfather's nephew, Charles Carroll of Carrollton; governors and members of influential families such as the Ridgelys and the Catons all were entertained at Quinn, as the house was called.
In 1835 Quinn was sold to the Rev. George Morrison, who turned the property into the Carroll Academy, where some of the sons of Maryland's most prominent families were educated. According to Mrs. Peter Woytowitz, the present owner, much of the original interior detailing survives and the house is part of the Baltimore County historic house tour held in May.
As more development comes to Sweet Air, the farm community and the developments will continue to get used to one another. Some of the ways of the country have already rubbed off. When Jack Heisler's family moved in, neighbors welcomed them with fresh-baked pies and five of them pitched in to help him build a swing set. "Just like the country," Heisler remarked.
Population: 4,370 (Baltimore County Office of Planning)
ZIP Code: 21013
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes
Public Schools: Jacksonville Elementary, Cockeysville Middle School, Dulaney High School
Shopping: Towson Town Center, Hunt Valley Mall, Manor Shopping Center and Paper Mill Village
Homes on market: 0*
Average listing price: $167,076*
Average sales price: $169,000*
Sales price as a percentage of listing: 103%*
Average days on market: 78*
* Based on four sales in the last 12 months by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.
Pub Date: 1/17/99