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Space for Employers, Not for Homes

Planners in Hagerstown and surrounding Washington County said the area is seeing a boom in home construction, much of it to serve workers in Frederick and Montgomery counties.

"We haven't had a growth boom since the '40s," marveled Kathleen Maher, Hagerstown's planning director. "With the housing we have in the pipeline now, the number of homes we have will rise 20 percent."

Residents Madeline Hanington, left, with her dog Bilbo, and Alana Taylor stroll through still-developing Clarksburg. (Photos Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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Many will wind up living in places like Hager's Crossing, a planned community in Hagerstown more than 40 miles northwest of Clarksburg and an hour or so away in rush hour. Going home every evening, they will cross thousands of acres of land preserved as "rural" under Montgomery and Frederick planning restrictions.

Prices in Hager's Crossing start at $189,900 for a new townhouse and $300,000 for a new detached home. Several families of Montgomery workers live in the community, which is in the early stages of construction. The sales staff said that as many as half the buyers are coming from Montgomery.

In some ways, these far-flung subdivisions are merely another version of the American dream. But those home buyers who work in Montgomery see it in less romantic terms. To them, it's more like a rational choice to sacrifice time in the car in exchange for an affordable, larger home.

Ibiso and Telema Erekosima -- who both work for Montgomery County, he as a bus driver and she as an administrative aide -- moved with their four children for a simple reason. "It was the prices," Ibiso said. "We looked in Pennsylvania, too, but that just seemed too far."

John Johnson, a computer worker in Germantown who just moved in with his wife and their teenage son, made the same choice. "I couldn't afford anything closer," he said. "My idea wasn't, 'Gee, let me see how far I can commute.' It just ended up that way."

The other day, as he dug into a pizza that had just been delivered to his new house, Johnson estimated that his new commute will be an hour or an hour and a half each way.

"I don't think Montgomery County is against family values," Johnson said. "But they certainly are cutting into my family time."

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