River Hill is 20 Years Old: Celebrating the Past with an Eye Toward the Future

The area that has become the Village of River Hill has seen many changes through the years and now serves as a transition between the highly developed eastern portion of Howard County and the more rural west. Although at one time it was expected to be developed much earlier, River Hill was not incorporated until August 13, 1991 as Columbia’s tenth and final village. The area was originally part of a land grant entitled “White Wine and Claret” and the name River Hill has been connected with the area for more than a century. According to the Columbia Archives, River Hill “dates back to an old plantation by the same name that reputedly was one of the first in Maryland to free its slaves.” In the mid 1960’s, the River Hill Farm was a regulated game preserve operated by the Rouse Company. The farm boasted the Baltimore-Washington region’s “best shooting for six full months of the year” for pheasant, quail, and duck hunting. This history influenced the developer’s choice of Pheasant Ridge and Pointers Run as neighborhood names and the images portrayed on the village signs.

James Rouse, Columbia’s founder, originally envisioned part of the area being set aside for recreational uses for Columbia’s new residents. His plans included a lake created by damming the Middle Patuxent River and the construction of ski slopes. However in the spring of 1966, Trotter Road resident and noted wildlife biologist Aelred Geis convinced James Rouse to join him one evening in observing the mating flight of the American Woodcock in a field located near Trotter Road. After this experience, Mr. Rouse was convinced of the environmental value of the area and agreed that the river valley and adjacent area needed to be preserved. Thus, a portion of the land that we now know as the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA) was set aside from development and ultimately sold to the county. This is part of the reason why more than 50% of River Hill’s 1,745 acres is open space and River Hill residents are able to benefit from the close proximity to this natural resource.

A private citizen’s work group, connected with the Columbia Forum and charged with keeping the original spirit of Columbia alive, that met between 1982 and 1987 envisioned River Hill as a community containing more affordable housing and one where alternative energy sources would power homes and businesses and “…electric and other non-polluting vehicles, video telephones and other futuristic communications systems, water-conserving toilets, shared taxi service, and roads free of cars except during peak hours” would be commonplace. Though roads free of cars are unlikely to occur any time soon, the original plan for the village calling for 2100 single family homes was amended in 1986. Howard Research and Development, the development arm of the Rouse Company responsible for building Columbia, petitioned the county to allow for more open space and a higher residential density. Although the Village of River Hill does not have the diversity of housing found in Columbia’s other villages, it is now home to more than 6,500 residents and has 2,300 dwelling units of which 480 units are condominiums and townhouses. River Hill residents have begun to embrace alternative energy sources and the village now has ____ homes with solar panels and ____ with a geothermal energy system. Electric cars are a reality and cell phones and other hand held communications devices are a part of day-to-day life for our residents.

Over the last twenty years there have been lots of firsts for our community:
• February 1992 – The first residents moved into the village off of South Wind Circle.
• September 1992 – The first Village Board was elected: Peter Engel, Elliott Cowan, David Berson, Bruce Riegel, and Jason Shapiro.
• May 1993 – David Berson became the village’s first representative to the Columbia Council.
• August 1993 – The Association hired Sunny McGuinn as the first Village Manager and the community celebrated the village’s first amenity which was the tot lot located in the center of South Wind Circle.
• January 1994 – The River Hill Village Board appointed the first Architectural Committee Sign-Off Representative: Dina Michels and the first Resident Architectural Committee: Anne Bradley, Janet Briel, Joel Brotman, Susan Clark, and George Matassov.
• May 1995 – The River Hill Outdoor Pool opened and the first neighborhood swim team, the River Hill Raptors, was formed.
• September 1995 – The River Hill Meeting Room, adjacent to the pool, became the site of village offices, Association meetings, and classes and activities for River Hill residents.
• October 1995 – Holly Maggio is appointed as the first Village Board Teen Member.
• March 1996 – Route 32 opened to traffic from Pindell School Road to MD 108 and results in traffic changes and increased noise affecting properties in the village.
• January 1997 – The village’s newsletter became The Villager. The newsletter still enjoys good readership and door-to-door delivery by youth who live in the community.
• November 1997 – The River Hill Village Center opened to the public.
• December 1997 – The first managed deer hunt was held in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area to help control the expanding deer population that was over-populating the area, taking its toll on the MPEA and resident’s landscaping, and contributing to resident’s concerns regarding Lyme Disease.
• January 1998 – The State, the County, and the Rouse Company announced plans to add landscaping screening along MD 32 to minimize noise affecting properties in the Pointer’s Run neighborhood. Ultimately, a berm was extended behind Mellow Wine Way and numerous trees were planted.
• November 1998 – The Columbia Association opened the Columbia Gym in the River Hill Village Center.
• August 1999 – The Pheasant Ridge Rapids and Pointers Run Piranhas complete their first swim league seasons.
• December 1999 – The Columbia Association opened Claret Hall and it became the River Hill Community Association’s new home.
• July 2000 – The Association’s first Annual Independence Day Parade was held and the Precision Lawnchair Dads made their first public appearance.
• January 2002 – The Association held its first One Day Multi-cultural Event, which just celebrated its 10th year in 2011.
• August 2003 – In response to community efforts, the county installed the first No Parking signs on streets near River Hill High School to deter overflow parking from students.
• January 2005 – Architectural control for residential properties in the village was passed from Howard Research and Development to the River Hill Community Association.
• March 2005 – The Association established the village’s first independent Architectural Committee and the Board of Directors appointed Karen Jespersen, Loan Nguyen, and Mohammad Saleem.
• September 2006 – The Association kicked off the Village’s Neighborhood Watch Program and the first Block Captain training session was held in October.
• May 2008 – The Association chartered the Traffic and Safety Committee.
• January 2010 – The Association formed a Master Plan Committee to create a plan for the future of the River Hill Village Center.
• August 2010 – The Association formally established a Teen Advisory Committee.
• May 2011 – In an effort to reduce costs, the Columbia Association removed the first tot lot from the village’s open space: Mellow Wine Way (RH9).

Today, the Village of River Hill only contains one undevelopable parcel within its boundaries, the grassy spot in the Village Center between the River Hill Giant and the Ruby Tuesday restaurant. What will the future bring for our community? With resident involvement the community has already begun to influence change. This is evident in the many traffic improvements and pedestrian safety enhancements that have been installed by the County and the State Highway Administration over the last several years. River Hill residents are invested in the future of the village and the surrounding Clarksville area. Through volunteer efforts, the Association is making progress on a Master Plan for the River Hill Village Center to ensure its success over the next 20 years. The current Village Board continues to be concerned about the impacts of continued development along MD 108 and additional residential infill development bordering the village. The future widening of MD 32 beyond Clarksville will provide additional challenges for the River Hill/Clarksville community. In an effort to be proactive, at the end of July the Association’s Board of Directors submitted testimony on the County’s draft 2030 General Plan Guidelines and requested that a high priority implementation action item of the 2030 General Plan be a “…sector or small area plan for the Clarksville/River Hill area and the MD 108 corridor…”. With resident support and effort, the Association will continue to respond to the changing environment and the needs of the community. We look forward to the next 20 years, the future is bright!

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