CROFTON – Lisa Eliot watched last summer as three neighbors without children sold their homes to families with children. Net gain for her quiet Chapman Farms cul-de-sac: 10 kids.
“And that’s in an existing housing development,” said Eliot, the PTA vice- president at Crofton Elementary, which is bursting at the seams with newcomers.
Once a series of rolling hills, woods and farms, and some older tree- shaded neighborhoods, the booming growth around Crofton earned it the title of the biggest and fastest-growing census tract in the state, according to the 2000 Census.
Census tract 7022.02 almost doubled from the 7,990 residents counted there in 1990 to 15,458 resident who lived in the predominantly white, upper-middle class area in 2000. The tract, north of old Crofton, is sprouting luxurious townhouse developments and single-family homes with two-story foyers and elegant names like Walden and Crofton Manor.
Many of the new homes are being bought by two-job families, in which at least one person commutes to work, said Dennis Stackhouse, a Greater Crofton Chamber of Commerce member and Allstate insurance agent. Crofton is relatively convenient to both Baltimore and Washington.
“You notice the increase in traffic on Route 3. You have to leave a little earlier for work,” said Stackhouse, who moved to Crofton from Silver Spring in 1988.
“Some evenings. . .it’ll just be gridlock” as commuters return from jobs in the city, he added.
Area schools are also feeling the impact of the growth, especially Crofton Elementary. The school has a current enrollment of 725 students, and Principal Harry Zacharko expects 755 students next year, “definitely. . . over 750.”
The school already uses five portable classrooms, and three more are on the way, said Mary Anne Wetklow, assistant to the principal. Its four fourth grade classes average 31 students. The school’s multipurpose room serves as both gym and cafeteria, but scheduling either use is difficult because of the number of students there, officials said.
Nearby Crofton Woods Elementary School has a more manageable enrollment of 639 students, said Principal Peter Zimmer — before adding that a new housing development across Route 424 will likely mean more students next year.
The booming population has residents and school administrators looking at the possibility of a high school in the area, something Stackhouse said is “badly needed.”
“People love the schools here, and they’re really fighting for a new Crofton high school,” said Martha Brown, a Long & Foster real estate agent in the area.
But even as North Crofton “has developed like crazy over the past 10 years,” people are still attracted by “the small-town feel of Crofton,” said Robert Johnston.
“In a lot of ways, it hasn’t changed,” said Johnston, the president of the Greater Crofton Chamber of Commerce, who moved here 11 years ago because he and his wife felt it would be family-friendly.
Stackhouse said many are drawn by older Crofton, which, while outside booming tract 7022.02, is still the center of the community. It draws people with its small-town feel and ice cream socials, craft fairs and holiday parades, he said.
“They look at Crofton as a tiny village,” Stackhouse said. “People who move here tend to stay here.”
Brown said Crofton residents “are snuggled in; they’re not moving.” As a result, it is a seller’s market for housing, she said.
Brown said she has posted listings for new homes and gotten calls about them within 10 minutes. Because of the demand, she said, property values “have increased significantly” over the last 10 years.
“You certainly have to be on your toes” if you’re looking to buy a house in Crofton, Brown said. “You have to be ready as soon as something hits the market. . .and be ready to move very quickly.”
The area is hot even though many residents complain that shopping has not kept pace with the rest of the growth in the region. Residents still have to drive to Bowie or Annapolis to do much of their shopping.
Local boosters are pinning their hopes for that problem on yet more development: The mixed-use Village at Waugh Chapel will add much-needed shopping to Crofton, which Johnston said is currently limited to Kmart, some fast food restaurants and a handful of other stores.
The Village, which is about 25 percent complete, will have a senior community, a manmade lake and a community center. The commercial section is scheduled to include a day spa as well as shops, offices, restaurants and a new Safeway.
“I would hear people say, `Our area needed this so bad,'” said Hope Chalk, assistant manager of the Dress Barn, one of the first stores to open in the new development.
But some see things slowing down, after a decade of booming growth.
“We’re starting to run out of land around the area,” said Brown. “There are still a few pockets of land” where townhouses and some new developments are being built.