Ask anyone doing business in Burtonsville what their biggest threat is, and they'll probably name Maple Lawn, the sprawling mixed-use community rising just one exit north at routes 29 and 216 in Fulton. Saturday's Post Real Estate section covers the sprawling development, where the biggest selling point seems to be its so-called "urban" features - like homes named for established D.C. neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill - among what one resident called "all this rural paradise" of Howard County.
It's ironic that Maple Lawn compares itself to a "small town" on its website, because there's a real small town just two miles south. With its porches, small yards and village green, it looks the part, but it doesn't play it very well. If you're looking for a taste of small-town life, Burtonsville comes a lot closer than anything a new neighborhood can contrive.
At only two homes an acre, Maple Lawn isn't much denser than many of Burtonsville's big-lawn single-family neighborhoods. An interactive map reveals that most homes are on very small lots - roughly an eighth of an acre - but the swaths of open space that are supposed to compensate for it aren't usable. They're pushed to the edges of the development or along the power line that divides Maple Lawn in half - a poor substitute for the Agricultural Reserve that skirts Burtonsville's northern boundary.
People in the article boast of being able to run into their neighbors while "walk[ing] their dogs at 1 o'clock in the morning," but you can't walk to school. Four schools literally sit in the middle of the development, but there are no pedestrian connections to them.
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
Messy, cluttered and unplanned: Route 198 in Burtonsville is a triumph of the small-town business district.
And that might be okay, because you can drop the kids off on your way to running errands, most of which will still require getting in the car. There just isn't enough density to support "convenience retail" within walking distance, even before community backlash over the project's original size forced the developer to lop off over five hundred homes.
As a result, Maple Lawn's "Business District" has such upscale goodies as a tapas bar, lingerie store and a clothing store called Urban Chic that are geared less to locals and more to people scooting up 29 towards the Mall in Columbia. Residents admitted that they still head down to Burtonsville to shop for groceries at Giant, not to mention other "useful stores" like Zimmerman's hardware store or, of course, the Bedding Barn.
Those five hundred lost homes also means that Maple Lawn had to jack up its prices in order to remain economically feasible. Houses here are big - townhouses range up to 4,200 square feet - and expensive, running from the $300's for a condo to $1.7 million for an "estate home." When asked about the community's variety, one resident said "there are retired people whose children are gone, and there are married couples with no kids." The new homeowners are ethnically diverse, the article explains, but the economic mix is scant.
That isn't the case in Burtonsville; in its older sections, lots were developed individually, meaning that families could build as big or small as they had to; as houses turn over, they sell at a variety of prices. Newer developments - subdivisions like Briarcliff Manor or the apartments and townhouses on Blackburn Road - are segregated by income, but still they contribute to a more diverse whole. Almost anyone can afford to live in Burtonsville, meaning that you can and will be exposed to a variety of people. That will not happen in Maple Lawn.
At its best, a small town provides the best of urban and rural - everything you need to live, but with lots of wide-open spaces. Burtonsville can out-do Maple Lawn in both regards. In order to thrive alongside it, we need to start making a point of our "small town credibility," if you will. We may not lure any families or businesses away from Maple Lawn, but we can rub it in their faces when they come down to Giant.