Two Carroll towns face development dilemmas; Pros, cons of growth trouble New Windsor, Union Bridge residents


New Windsor and Union Bridge sit as bookends on Carroll County's rural Route 75, separated by four miles and a middle school, a graveyard and a grocery.

These are quiet places -- the smallest pair of the county's eight incorporated towns -- but they are slowly stirring.

Residents of both towns are feeling their first growing pains since World War II, and many fear the changes could forever alter the face of the remote communities.

You see it in the rolling, agricultural landscape of New Windsor as 150 new two-story, aluminum-sided houses dot the hillsides in stark contrast to the town's stately Victorian homes. Groundbreaking for nearly 30 additional homes in another development is expected soon.

Down the road in Union Bridge, a 174-home development is planned for the near future, shattering complacency along the 1/2-mile main drag in a town where only four homes have been built in 10 years.

A lack of direct access from nearby Westminster has helped insulate these areas so well that they share the services of one police officer -- who patrols back and forth daily.

But the suburban sprawl that has crept into other corners of the county -- and a need for more tax revenues to update aged services -- is forcing growth onto the back roads.

It's a dilemma observers say could lead to major problems.

"Development doesn't pay for itself in taxes," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, a preservation-oriented nonprofit group monitoring Carroll County growth. "It could end up backfiring on these towns. They will need roads, schools and other infrastructure. These costs aren't going to be borne by the state -- and the county doesn't have the money, so you'll end up with angry citizens."

But others welcome the change.

"The next place to go is Union Bridge," said Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr., owner of a filling station and one of Carroll's few elected Democrats. "My personal opinion is that Union Bridge needs some growth. You can't keep people out forever -- it's happening everywhere else, and it's going to happen here."

Jones said the new development will consist of single-family homes selling for $140,000 each. (The town's annual budget is $474,000.) Plans to build 314 homes were reduced after the Maryland Department of the Environment found the water supply inadequate.

The development will commence as Union Bridge's business anchor, Lehigh Cement, embarks on a major expansion, Jones said.

The town of 1,000 is loaded with charm, Jones says. A series of communitywide pancake breakfasts helped raise funds to build a Town Hall, and organizations such as the Lions Club, Heritage Committee and Garden Club meet frequently to keep the area close-knit.

An old hardware store with creaky wooden floors sells quirky salt and pepper shakers alongside widgets and screens. Jones delights in pointing out a new delicatessen on Main Street and the Western Maryland Railroad Museum on Main Street.

The town also has problems. Flooding by Little Pipe Creek often isolates the town and forces locals to drive through an elaborate detour to get in and out.

Officials increased water and sewer rates effective July 1 because the town wasn't collecting enough money to cover operating costs. Annual water costs exceeded revenues by $34,150, while a disparity in sewer rates showed $50,650 was needed to break even on an annual basis.

By contrast, New Windsor's slight growth has allowed town officials to purchase two salt trucks instead of hiring a contractor for the service. "It's cheaper, and we have a quicker response," says Ragen Cherney, the town's chief of staff.

"As the town gets bigger, services get better," Cherney said.

New Windsor, population 1,470, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A small gazebo has a plaque noting the town's founding in 1797.

Today, it sits at a crossroads.

Last summer, Gov. Parris N. Glendening awarded Carroll County $1.5 million to protect 1,000 acres in the Little Pipe Creek watershed through purchase of easements on the watershed's eastern edge near New Windsor.

Yet the county's Master Plan, awaiting adoption by the county commissioners, targets certain areas, including New Windsor and Union Bridge, for growth.

All this has locals such as Monroe Hyde wondering which way to turn.

"Outsiders are coming in," says the 81-year-old Hyde, who lives three miles outside of town. "When I used to come to New Windsor, I never locked my car. Now I do. The changes are going to foul 'em up."

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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