A welcoming waterfront community

The Baltimore Sun

Known as the "Pride of the Gunpowder," the community of Oliver Beach in Chase is nestled in the far southeastern corner of Baltimore County.

The residential waterfront neighborhood of about 500 homes boasts beautiful views of the Gunpowder River at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and of the woods directly across the river at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

It was the water that first drew Frank Orzolek, an avid windsurfer, to Oliver Beach eight years ago.

"It's a little mecca for water sports, crabbing and fishing," said Orzolek, the president of the Oliver Beach Improvement Association. "There's a real sense of community here. I thought it would take 20 years to get accepted; it took about 20 minutes."

He calls the tucked away, family-friendly neighborhood a wonderful community. Especially come springtime, says Orzolek, when the river starts glistening, the crabs are running, the fish are biting and the wind is blowing.

The area is named for successful Baltimore shipping merchant Robert Oliver, according to a history listed on the improvement association's Web site. Known for his "Green Mount" estate, now a historic Baltimore cemetery, Oliver purchased 500 acres along the Gunpowder River and used the property for hunting. He had a lodge built there in 1820 by Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington monuments in Washington and Baltimore. The lodge today is a private residence with an adjacent, small, community-owned parcel that is often used for outdoor neighborhood events.

In 1930, the peninsula was purchased and subdivided into lots, keeping seven pieces of waterfront property for community use. Although many of the houses started out as summer residences, it eventually turned into a year-round neighborhood.

Vera Reiner lives in the waterfront home her parents built in 1936.

"It's a wonderful spot to live on the water," said Reiner. "We've always enjoyed having boats and access to the water."

Third generation families are not uncommon in Oliver Beach, she says, but in recent years, even as many new families have moved in, the community has managed to retain its close-knit ways.

"Your neighbors are a lot of times your friends," says Reiner. "It's very low-key living."

Housing stock : Oliver Beach houses vary in style but are mostly single-family Colonials, split-levels, Cape Cods, bungalows and ranchers. While some of the houses on the peninsula date back to the 1930s, many were built more recently.

A waterfront house will fetch between $450,000 to $750,000, according to Russell Hughes Jr., of Wave Realty and MDReal.com.

"Some of the best views in Baltimore County are in Oliver Beach," says Hughes. "I believe it to be Baltimore County's hidden waterfront treasure."

Houses on interior streets will cost in the high $200,000s to $400,000, depending on the age and what renovations may have been completed.

"It has beautiful protected views. It's a very nice area," said Hughes.

Living on the water is not without risk. When Tropical Storm Isabel hit in 2003, several homes in Oliver Beach were damaged. However, much of the peninsula is above flood level, says Hughes, so it fared better than other neighboring waterfront communities.

Crime: "It's a very safe neighborhood," said Bill Toohey, spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department. An active neighborhood association and its location on the water with limited access keeps it protected.

"The fact that it's on the water, it limits options for criminals," said Toohey. "They generally don't like neighborhoods like that."

Schools: Students attend Oliver Beach Elementary, Middle River Middle and Kenwood High Ib and Sports Science schools. Oliver Beach surpassed state marks on the Maryland School Assessments, with third-graders scoring 94.7 percent proficient in math and 89.5 in reading. Middle schoolers as a whole showed better marks in reading than math, with seventh-graders scoring 59.1 percent proficient in math and 82.4 percent proficient in reading. Both schools met the Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, requirements, a tool used to track academic progress and make accountability decisions.

Kenwood had a graduation rate of 80.9 percent. Although the high school failed to meet its 2008 AYP requirements, it missed the mark in only one category.

Dining in : Residents mostly drive to Geresbeck's or Mars Super Market in Middle River.

Dining out : Close by is a small local shopping area with Lucky Fortune Restaurant, George's Bakery and Deli, and Mustang Pizza and Subs. There's also the Oliver Beach Inn at the entrance to the neighborhood, or just a bit farther is By the Docks Restaurant and Lounge.

Shopping: Local stores and services line Eastern Avenue. Carroll Island Shopping Center is nearby and includes a Wal-Mart. New shops are popping up as development moves forward along Route 43. Residents can also head to White Marsh Mall.

Transportation: There is a MARC train station just a few miles away at Martin State Airport. The Route 43 extension, which opened in 2006, ends at Eastern Avenue near the airport, making it a quick drive from Oliver Beach to Interstate 95 and White Marsh.

Parks and recreation : Oliver Beach borders Gunpowder Falls State Park and is near the park's waterfront Hammerman Area, which includes a swimming beach, picnic spots, playground and windsurfing beach.

Dundee Creek Marina is also minutes away. Ultimate Watersports operates out of the park and the marina, renting kayaks, wind surfboards and catamarans. There's a certified kayaking school and learn-to-sail programs.

Marshy Point Nature Center, on the Chesapeake Bay, includes a range of environmental recreation and educational activities.

Entering its 54th season, Bengies Drive-In Theatre is the place to be for movies during the warmer months.


ZIP codes: 21220

Homes on the market: 12

Average sale price: $381,533*

Average days on the market: 64*

*Information based on sales during the past 12 months, compiled by Russell Hughes, Jr., a broker for Wave Realty and MDReal.com and Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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