Art Shoukas has spent virtually his entire 16 years at Valley Mede trying to keep his quiet, unpretentious Howard County neighborhood a secret.

He hasn't had been completely successful. It wasn't long after he moved in that another house hunter discovered the tree-filled neighborhood and built a house on the empty lot next door. Soon, two more houses went up directly across the street.

Not long ago, a developer came in and put up more than 200 single-family homes in what was once a grove of black-walnut trees and an apple orchard behind Shoukas's house.

Despite the changes, Valley Mede has somehow retained its out-of-the-way suburban character. Shoukas, 49, a Johns Hopkins University professor, boasts about still being able to walk along the community's wide, curbless streets and knowing most of the neighborhood children by name. He still can sit on his screened porch, listen to birds chirp, and not feel that he is in a community wedged between Interstate 70 and Route 40 west of where the two highways join in the northern part of the county.

"I still consider Valley Mede my little secret," Shoukas said. "It has changed a lot over the years, but I guess you come to the realization that {the newcomers} are here to stay and you make the best of it."

Valley Mede is like many communities around Ellicott City that have borne the brunt of Howard County's rapid growth in the past few years. But unlike many neighborhoods, Valley Mede has accepted and even been energized by the infusion of new families.

The community's once-dormant civic association now hosts neighborhood picnics and its president talks about starting a garden club. The sign on the front entrance has been taken down so it can be repainted and the landscaping around it replaced. And residents have fashioned an effective lobbying bloc that has called on the county to ease the school crowding and nearby road congestion.

"There's no new versus old here," said Jodi Cascio, Valley Mede's civic association president. "We have viewpoints from both sides on our executive board and we all pull for pretty much the same things."

The two sides Cascio refers to are the families who live in the older and newer houses that make up Valley Mede. It is not difficult to recognize the physical differences. The older houses tend to sit on well-kept half-acre to full-acre lots surrounded by mature trees and bushes. The curbless roads have no streetlights.

The newer houses are larger and their picture windows and skylights hint at more amenities. But they sit on smaller quarter-acre to half-acre lots that are landscaped with saplings and young bushes. The streets in these subdivisions include still-white sidewalks and gutters.

The name Valley Mede refers to one of the original subdivisions in the area. As neighborhoods and houses have been added, so has Valley Mede grown into what Shoukas now calls "Greater Valley Mede."

All told, more than 650 single-family houses make up the neighborhood, and Howard County planners expect the number to climb to 918 by 2010. About 2,400 people live in the community, where prices average about $200,000 for the older houses to more than $270,000 for the newer ones.

The newer houses have added younger families to the mix of older families that live in the original part of the community, Shoukas said.

"This is not a high-turnover area," he said after ticking off a list of active and retired schoolteachers, government administrators, corporate mid-managers and a state's attorney who have put down their roots in Valley Mede and remained.

Some longtime residents such as Raymond J. Hynson, a 63-year-old lawyer, have seen their children buy houses in the neighborhood.

"If anything, the neighborhood has only gotten nicer since it has matured," said Hynson, who arrived in 1968.

He said he was first attracted to houses in the neighborhood because of their large lots and the fact that the neighbors "are not right on your back."

Some Valley Mede residents initially fought a county plan to build a small park in the neighborhood. They relented when county police promised to patrol the park regularly to keep out troublemakers.

Today, neighborhood residents try hard to keep Cypressmede Park a secret from the rest of the county. That's because the park's tennis courts have grown so popular that it can be difficult to find an open court on weekends or evenings after work.

"You have to get there by 7:30 in the morning on weekends if you don't want to wait," said Gene Principato.

For Principato, 38, crowded tennis courts represent just another example of the consequences of rapid growth on the Howard County neighborhood.

"I've been one of the persons around here most concerned about the growth," Principato said. "We've got overcrowding of our schools, our church buildings, our swimming pools and our roads. Our whole social infrastructure has suffered because of growth."

But he doesn't begrudge his new neighbors. In the Valley Mede way, he says he may not look forward to the new houses being built in his community, but once they are there, and the families move in, "you find people who want to see these problems solved like everyone else. So we work together."