If you're driving along Route 144 in Howard County, passing through West Friendship, and get a yearning for a McDonald's Big Mac, fries and a shake, just keep driving. Because, try as you might to find a McDonald's in West Friendship, you'll come up empty-handed.
And that just may be one of the reasons why residents in this part of Howard County like to call West Friendship home. For, if a McDonald's isn't present - as Mary Jo Neil, a resident for five years, can attest to - neither is the commercial clutter that comes with creeping development and sprawl.
Even with several suburban-style developments that have popped up in the last 10 or 20 years, the rural feel still exists. "It's really not developed," said Neil, "It's very country here."
Neil and her family moved to West Friendship in 1995 from Laurel. After looking at other areas in Howard County such as Columbia's Village of River Hill, they decided those places "were just too crowded," Neil said.
They found a 3-acre lot in the King's Grant subdivision off Route 32 and built a home there. In addition to enjoying the country atmosphere, Neil said, she and her husband appreciate the accessibility to major roads. He's in sales and often travels by car to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and other cities.
West Friendship straddles Route 32 at intersections with Interstate 70 and Route 144 and covers the area just south along Route 32. It is situated a few miles from Columbia, which can be reached by traveling back roads.
Older homes dot the rolling landscape and line Route 144. The newer developments are off the beaten track.
"West Friendship is such a hidden little place; it doesn't encompass very much land," said Debbie Burchardt, a real estate agent in the Ellicott City office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA.
Arrivals from Glenwood
Burchardt and her husband, also a Realtor, moved to West Friendship four years ago from Glenwood, another rural Howard County town. "It's such a convenient location for us to get to work on Route 40 or any of the Route 40 stores," she said.
The Burchardts were among the first to build a home in Yardley Hunt, a 4-year-old subdivision off Route 144. She has listed quite a few homes in the neighborhood and now has two on the market. The prices of homes there range from the mid-$400,000s to nearly $900,000.
"It [the price] really depends on size," Burchardt said, "One home here has a full-size basketball court in the basement with a gallery and bleachers."
She also has sold homes in other parts of West Friendship. Another popular subdivision is Fox Valley, a 100-home development that opens onto Route 32. Like Yardley Hunt, Fox Valley consists mainly of custom homes on 1-acre lots. Both subdivisions enjoy a good amount of green space because current Howard County zoning requires that for every 1-acre lot that is sold, two acres must be placed in a preservation parcel. That land is not to be developed.
"Fox Valley has lots of preservation land," Burchardt said. "The homes go quickly. It's a very hot area."
West Friendship traces its roots to the mid-1700s, when farmers used the land to grow tobacco.
The Ellicott brothers of Pennsylvania moved to Maryland to build a flour mill. They were able to persuade Charles Carroll, a large landowner, to convert his fields to wheat. By the end of the Revolutionary War, the area was dominated by farmers who grew wheat.
Now, many of the large farms have been converted to housing developments. Some crops are still grown on smaller parcels, and livestock graze in the fields. And today the area is home to the Howard County Fair. West Friendship Elementary School on Route 144 is one of the oldest schools in Howard County. Originally constructed in 1925 as the High and Consolidated School at West Friendship, it was two stories high with six rooms. Over the next few decades, there were several additions and it became an elementary school. The school was rebuilt in 1978.
Route 32 dispute
One issue that has created disagreement among area residents is the proposed expansion of Route 32. Plans have been made to widen the road from Clarksville to Interstate 70. Largely because of the opposition of residents, the plans have not been finalized.
"I don't think anyone really knows what's going to happen to 32," said Burchardt. Some feel that improving the road will lead to more development, but Burchardt isn't sure that will happen in West Friendship.
"I think the resale market is really going to boom," she said. "There are only a couple of farms that could potentially be developed." Right now, she enjoys living there and selling homes there.
"It's an easy sell for us," she said.
ZIP code: 21794
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes
Public schools: West Friendship Elementary School, Mount View Middle School, Glenelg High School
Shopping: West Friendship Shopping Center, Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, The Mall in Columbia, River Hill Village Center
Homes currently on market: 11
Average listing price: $454.646 *
Average sale price: $446,780 *
Average days on market: 75 *
Sale price as percentage of listing price: 98.29% ** Based on 24 sales in the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.