Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Laytonsville hears the future knocking

Residents work to preserve their town’s historic feel in the face of development that will double its size

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Rural Laytonsville is on the brink of change as the tiny town’s population is expected to double in the next five years or so, and many residents have mixed feelings about it.

‘‘We’re trying to identify and preserve the character of the town — while embracing the more congenial aspects of modern expectations of quality of life,” said Margaret Pollock, 56, who served on the citizens advisory committee that helped develop the town’s comprehensive plan in 1989.

‘‘In order to do the first, we have to beat back the undisciplined hand of development that might work in other parts of the county.”

Laytonsville, a historic town wedged between the Agricultural Reserve and Olney at the intersection of Brink Road and Route 108, has managed to hang on to its small size and rural feel as suburban development has grown all around.

Now 100-plus houses on two-acre lots, a water tower, pumping station and infrastructure are on their way.

History in the making

In the early 1800s, Laytonsville was a thriving agricultural center; ‘‘Cracklintown” as it was known, and it was more populous than Rockville or Bethesda, Pollack said.

In 2000, Laytonsville had a population of 277 people living in 101 homes, mostly houses built before 1970, almost half before 1939, according to Census data; by 2006, the town’s population had grown to 335.

Now three major developments are bringing more than 100 new houses, most on two-acre plots.

On the north side of Brink Road, developer NV Homes has started the Reserve at Rolling Ridge, a community of 13 houses on roughly two-acre parcels; prices start at about $870,000.

West of Route 108, known as Main Street through town, Laytonsville Communities LLC has received approval to build Fulks South behind the Layton Village Shopping Center. The ‘‘walkable community” will have 48 homes on about 122 acres.

And east of Main Street, Laytonsville Nurseries Corp., owned by the town’s Stadler family, has plans to develop a 121-acre parcel. No preliminary plan has been submitted to the Town Council yet, said Laytonsville Mayor Charles W. Oland this week. He expects about 45 new houses.

‘‘Each development will have walkable trails,” Oland said. ‘‘Hopefully we will have the communities connected.”

And to the west of Fulks South, developer YCK and CCMC Limited owns another 122 acres now farmed but zoned like the Rolling Ridge property. The town is not aware of any development plans for that land, Oland said.

Perhaps a saving grace

Several years ago, Pollock, who lives on Main Street, did some measurements and brought a ball of string into a Town Council meeting as an exhibit. She used the string to show that if Route 108 was widened to four lanes within 20 years, as specified in the Olney Town Center Master Plan approved last year, many of the town’s Main Street homes would lose their front doors, if not more.

‘‘I looked at the plan, took dimensions of a four-lane divided highway, which was 150 feet, then took one of [my] kids and stood them in the street with a piece of string and I started walking toward my house,” said Pollock.

The ball unrolled right past a historic oak tree and through her front door to the back wall of the house before she stopped at 150 feet. The small town cannot afford to build a bypass, the mayor said.

As part of their development deals, Laytonsville Communities and NV Homes dedicated land to run a 150-foot-wide highway bypass around the town’s historic district. The town has not yet heard from YKC and CCMC Limited, Oland said.

Laytonsville Communities has funded a new water tower and pumping station on Fulks South, to be installed along with infrastructure by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, said Oland.

All town residents — except those at Rolling Ridge — will be able to hook on to the main water line over time.

‘‘Many of the properties in the original town are on half-acre lots served by well and septic,” said Oland. ‘‘And septics cannot be within a 100-foot radius of the wells, so you look at a half-acre and you draw these little circles, and it doesn’t leave a lot of room.”

Some town residents are now on their second septic system with nowhere else to install a new one if the system gives out, he said.

The impact of development on schools has not yet been addressed, the mayor said.

‘‘It’s an issue,” he said.

Finding balance

The town’s Historic District Commission is working to adapt to development — hoping to bring modern quality of life amenities, like water, roads and sidewalks, while preserving some of the town’s grace and charm.

‘‘Hopefully what it will bring to [the] historic district in the future is recognition, revenue, offer citizens more types of shops, services,” said Sheree Wenger, president of the commission. ‘‘Why do people move to the Kentlands? Because everything is localized.”

‘‘We’re trying to make sure that things happen in the right way,” said Michele Shortley, another commissioner. ‘‘We want to keep it looking like a historic community and make sure that any new development is complementary to what is already there.”

Shortley, who moved to Laytonsville several years ago, hopes to see more shops and restaurants in keeping with the historic district.

‘‘I really hate the disappearance of small-town America,” she said.