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Patricia "Patty" Rouse said it is hard for her to believe that Maryland would name a stretch of a major road after her.

After all, she did not meet her husband, James Rouse, until 1973, six years after Columbia, the planned community James built, had opened.

So when county officials announced on Patty Rouse's 80th birthday May 4 that they were going to name a portion of Route 175 in Columbia after her and James, she pronounced herself surprised.

"It's a great honor for me to be included with Jim's name," she said. "I'm very pleased, very shocked, but I think it's wonderful."

Rouse spoke after a short ceremony at Lake Kittamaqundi, in downtown Columbia, where she received gifts from co-workers at Enterprise Community Partners Inc., Columbia Association President Maggie Brown and Trent Kittleman, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority.

"I don't deserve this," Patty Rouse said of the birthday event.

State officials will rename a four-mile stretch of Route 175, between Route 29 and Interstate 95, as Rouse Parkway. The section of road bisects east Columbia and, at Route 29, becomes Little Patuxent Parkway, the main road through west Columbia.

The name will be effective as soon as new signs are erected at the end of the week. The signs will state, "This Parkway Named for Jim and Patty Rouse."

Enterprise co-founder

Patty Rouse co-founded the Enterprise Foundation with her husband in 1982. Earlier this year, the foundation was renamed Enterprise Community Partners Inc.

The nonprofit, which builds affordable homes and improves communities for low income families throughout the country, has built 192,000 homes since 1982.

"Patty is revered at Enterprise," said Diana Meyer, a senior director at Enterprise. "She is 80 years old and comes to work every day."

The idea to name the stretch of road after the Rouses came from Meyer.

Meyer said she knows Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan and told him of her proposal. Flanagan agreed and the naming was approved by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, the State Roads Commission and the Howard County government, she said.

"It's the only road within Columbia that still had a number," Meyer said. "It seemed like the best target."

Patty Rouse has dedicated much of her life to community service. In 1991, she was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to serve on the board of directors of the Commission on National and Community Service.

"She and Jim were really partners," said Bart Harvey, chairman and chief executive officer of Enterprise. "She wants to make sure that his care for people who are less fortunate is upheld in every way. Her legacy is that a great society like ours ought to be able to help."

Rouse's vision for Columbia

The Rouses married in 1974, Patty Rouse said.

In the early 1960s, James Rouse, who had earlier founded The Rouse Co., a Baltimore-based mall developer, secretly began purchasing 14,000 acres of farmland in Howard County with the intent of creating a planned community in the center of what was then a relatively rural county.

In planning Columbia, Rouse said he wanted to serve people from different cultural backgrounds and to build a complete community that provided basic needs such as grocery stores, schools, places of worship and recreational facilities.

In the roughly 40 years since it opened, Columbia has become a thriving community of about 100,000 people who live in 10 villages.

Howard County officials are now drafting a 30-year master plan that would redevelop downtown Columbia into a more urbanized location.

James Rouse died in 1996 at age 81.

In addition to Columbia, his firm developed Baltimore's Harbor Place, South Street Seaport in New York, Faneuil Hall in Boston and many other projects worldwide.

E-mail Andrei Blakely at Andrei Blakely@patuxent.com

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