Quiet retreat amid woods and water

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"It's just so peaceful and quiet here," said Sue Johnson. "It's beautiful."

Johnson is talking about the Holly Neck Peninsula, an area surrounded by water, farmland and forest that is just south of Turkey Point off Back River Neck Road.

Johnson should know about peace and quiet because she and her husband, Herb, moved to the peninsula after living on a 12-acre farm in White Hall.

"It was nice living in Harford County, but there's no way to describe living on the water," said Johnson. "It's fantastic, wonderful."

The couple moved back to the area to take care of aging relatives. Herb Johnson grew up on the peninsula in an old waterfront shore home. The couple then rented a house in the area before moving to the farm in White Hall. In the 1990s, when the Johnsons moved back to the peninsula, they replaced Herb Johnson's old family home with a new house next to the Baltimore Yacht Club.

"People who come to the Baltimore Yacht Club come from all over the state. And they are amazed at how clean the neighborhood is," said Sue Johnson. "People are so enthused about keeping the neighborhood nice."

Until the early 1900s, the peninsula was wilderness that attracted mostly hunters and anglers. A few farms and orchards were also located on the peninsula. The waterfront area became an attraction for Baltimore residents looking to escape the summer heat. One- and two-room cottages on lots about 55 feet wide began to pop up, but it wasn't long until residents began adding on to the cottages for year-round occupancy.

Over the years, much of the area has remained wooded with several hundred acres still undeveloped. The majority of homes are located near the water, toward the ends of roads that branch off of Holly Neck Road. Each pocket neighborhood tends to be known by the name of the road on which it is located.

The Holly Neck Conservation Association was formed three years ago to help unite the peninsula. The group boasts 250 members. "It's a great place to live," said Jim Mitchell, association president. "It has mostly been redevelopment here, which we are proud of. We haven't disturbed a lot of forest or farmland. It's a growth-management area and well protected by a lot of different environmental laws."

Mitchell and his wife, Katie, moved to the area in the mid-1970s when many of the homes were still summer shore homes. The house they purchased was in "horrendous" condition but on the water, Mitchell says.

After several months and a lot of sweat equity, it became habitable. Then in 1991 the couple sold the house to a friend, bought the house next door and built a new house on the property.

'Amazing' beauty

"I'm not the only one like that," said Jim Mitchell. "A lot of people have invested their lives in being able to live here. A lot of people didn't come here with a lot of money, but came with a lot of energy and ideas and made it work. It's amazing how beautiful the homes are."

A large portion of the open property on the peninsula belongs to the Holly Neck Limited Partnership, headed by developer Leonard Berger. Over the years, Berger has tried to rezone the land during the county's comprehensive rezoning process with various development ideas for the parcel. In 2000, he was successful in getting nearly 150 acres rezoned to a less restrictive category.

And after years of delay, the peninsula will soon be served by public sewerage, something that could open the area to increased development.

To help protect and conserve the natural beauty of the area, the Bruce E. Johnson Land Trust Fund was established in February in memory of a Holly Neck Peninsula resident who died of cancer. The fund will be used to increase education, incentives and opportunities for voluntary land conservation.

Wildlife enjoyed

"It's a wonderful area that has a tremendous amount of wildlife; it's not unusual for me to wake up every morning with a blue heron on my dock," said Valerie Gaydos, who created the land trust in memory of her husband, Bruce E. Johnson. "We've aligned ourselves with the Maryland Environmental Trust, which relies on local land trusts to identify land recommended for conservation."

Gaydos said the group wants to encourage responsible development. "This is an absolute treasure back here," she said. "We're just trying to educate people as to the various benefits of putting land into conservation."

Since the early 1980s, the value of waterfront land has continued to escalate and it's not uncommon to find a waterfront house in the Holly Neck area on the market for more than $350,000.

Three of the four homes currently on the market in the Holly Neck Peninsula are on the waterfront. The homes list for $369,900, $499,900 and $620,000. Empty waterfront lots and those with unimproved shore homes sell in the $200,000 range. Homes not on the water are in the average range of $70,000 to $150,000, depending on the size, improvements and lot.

"We have waterfront lots selling for what a house used to sell for," said Carolyn Ayres, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in White Marsh and a resident of the nearby Sue Creek Landing neighborhood. "When the waterfronts are coming up in price, they pull everything around them up as well. I think it's great for the southeast area that they are appreciating like they are and that they are in such demand."

The area's attraction is easy to spot, Ayres said.

"The Holly Neck Peninsula almost has a small town appeal to it," she said. "It's a very isolated community. Once you're down there, you have local restaurants, and Rocky Point State Park and Rocky Point Golf Course are both right there."

The Holly Neck area is particularly nice, said Ayres, because of its million dollar views.

Anna Renault was born and raised in the Cedar Beach area of the Holly Neck peninsula.

"It's quiet and rural with lots of trees. It's a great place for kids to grow up in. I should know because I did it," said Renault. "It's a good area and the neighbors are wonderful. Even those you don't know."

But Renault doesn't have to go far to find someone she knows. She jokes that if she goes 10 houses in any direction she will run into a relative of hers.

Charles and Yolanda Foehrkolb are in a similar situation. Charles Foehrkolb's family bought property at the end of the Holly Neck Peninsula in 1929. The area later became known as Breezy Point Beach and for many years was open as a public park accommodating as many as 3,000 people. The area is now home to members of the Foehrkolb family.

"When this was opened as Breezy Point Beach, we would have loads of people come here," said Yolanda Foehrkolb. "We all have homes here now, and it's really very nice. We are always getting together."

Holly Neck

ZIP Code: 21221

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Middleborough Elementary, Deep Creek Middle, Chesapeake High

Shopping: Centre at Golden Ring, Country Ridge Shopping Center, Hyde Park Station, Middlesex Shopping Center

Homes on market: 4

Average listing price of recent sales: $216,622*

Average sales price: $204,917*

Days on market: 382*

Sales price as percentage of listing price: 94.60%**

Based on six sales in the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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