Fulton is a community of widening contrasts.

An old family farm sits next to some of the newest schools in Howard County. Nearby, development has begun on a planned community that has been approved for at least 1,200 homes, plus office and retail space.

The area, in southern Howard County, retains the feel of its rural past, with swatches of farmland and handsome houses on large lots. Even the odor of manure that wafts from Maple Lawn Farms contributes to the quaint calm and sense of country living.

But change has begun. The Iager family, which continues to run Maple Lawn Farms and whose history is inextricably tied to Fulton's past, also has a hand in the planned Maple Lawn development. That new community, which will eventually replace the old farm, has been a contentious issue in the area for more than five years. Opponents have argued that adding thousands of new residents will strain roads, schools and services. "It goes against the very reason why we chose the place," said Melanie McKibbin, a Fulton resident for 10 years.

Developers have countered that Maple Lawn will be just the kind of well-planned "smart growth" that Maryland encourages.

Fulton calls to those longing for tidy rolling lawns, refuge in their gardens and play room for their families. Tom and Connie Miller wanted more land and a tranquil neighborhood. They lived on an Ellicott City cul-de-sac where the only room to play was in the street.

They still live on a cul-de-sac, but they also have about an acre of land where their five children play softball, soccer and croquet. The youngsters tumble around on their play set, and have already "learned the joy of a tire swing," said Tom Miller, 52, a pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Laurel.

In Ellicott City, the laughter and shrill cries of children playing sometimes annoyed neighbors, Connie Miller said. But now, she said, relations with neighbors are good and she feels comfortable knowing that her children's play does not disturb people.

"Out here we, at least, have been able to be ourselves," said Connie Miller, 50, a pastor at the same church as her husband.

Most homes in Fulton have at least one acre of land, large front lots and large back yards. Many of those off Lime Kiln Road and Lovat Road have at least three acres.

"I have the two acres to experiment, test different theories," said Melanie McKibbin, 44, a landscape designer, who lives with her husband, Jay, and twin sons on Cherry Tree Drive.

And there is plenty of space left for the kids' swing set and trampoline, for Jay McKibbin to fly Frisbees and knock around golf balls as he plays with the kids.

For some, such as Gail Gee, 46, the large lots mean space for their gardening fix. Gee is out in the garden almost every day from the end of February to the beginning of December. "If they make it, I have it," she said.

Gee jumped into gardening before she moved from Montgomery County to her current home in the Fulton Estates division 12 years ago. She longed for more space to feed her blooming fetish for gardening.

"I didn't care about the house," Gee said. "I wanted the land."

Now her three-acre lot is full of hostas, peonies, irises and other flowers and a variety of trees and shrubs. A gazebo and outdoor patio, where she sometimes has cocktail hour, decorate the lush garden grounds.

"I'd have to say it's the most extensive garden in Fulton," Gee said.

At the center of Fulton, there's a shopping strip, with a Ledo's Pizza, a nail salon, a wine and beer shop, the post office, bank, dry cleaner and animal hospital. Gay Biordi owns Fulton Station Jewelers & Giftware there. It's a place where customers become friends who visit not only to buy jewelry but also to swap stories and catch up. Sometimes Biordi and her co-workers fit one customer's needs with another customer's desires, like asking around to see if an unwanted cat can be placed into a new home.

Biordi moved to Fulton in 1971 and opened shop in 1987. "At the time, it was very much country -- very, very beautiful countryside. People were so nice, just a lovely place to live," she said. That's all still true, but now the community is growing busier, she said.

Any conversation about Fulton is incomplete without mention of the Iager family, who held much of the land at one time and whose influence on Fulton carries on. At Maple Lawn Farms, they still raise turkeys, as they have for more than 60 years, and grow crops including wheat, barley and soy. Their Holsteins graze along Route 216, across from the Fulton strip shopping center that was built by C. Ellsworth Iager in 1986.

Because of the late C. Ellsworth Iager's role in Fulton's development, some people called him "Mr. Fulton."

In 1839, Henry Iager bought the family's original 108-acre parcel of land that his descendants have actively farmed ever since. The sixth generation of Iagers is now involved in day-to-day operations.

But the family's reach extends beyond the farm, to the big Maple Lawn community that Baltimore-based developer Greenebaume & Rose Associates has begun nearby. Mary Elizabeth Iager said she worked hard with her husband, Ellsworth, to harvest their produce and sacrificed to buy land. She thinks the family has the right to sell to and develop the property as it pleases. "Wouldn't you feel that way, too?" she said.

Judy Iager, daughter-in-law to Mary Elizabeth Iager, said she understands how some neighbors feel -- some of them wanted the Iagers' land to become a park -- but said the family wanted to decide how it would develop the land.

"We have to try to have some kind of say in our future," Judy Iager said.

Some residents, though, worry that coming changes will disrupt their lives.

"I know why they're doing it," said Bronwen Lerner, 62, a Fulton resident. "They want the best use of the land they have. So I understand it, but it doesn't mean I have to like it."

The consensus is that the area will continue to be a draw, as people move to a place that combines open spaces with easy access to Washington, Baltimore and Columbia.

"Fulton has gotten to be a popular place," Judy Iager said.

Tom and Connie Miller hang out in their back yard with their children, from left, Carrie, 8; Lewis, 2; Molly, 11; Lien, 8; and Sue-Lee, 10. Connie Miller says her family has more land in Fulton than at their previous home in Ellicott City, and the children are freer to make noise without disturbing neighbors.