Luxury apartments proliferate across Howard County

After her marriage ended, Daphne M. McBeth wanted to find a new place to live that offered the luxurious setting she’d been accustomed to in her Anne Arundel County house.

A lengthy web search led her to the newly opened Residences at Annapolis Junction.

"It was the perfect fit," says the 50-year-old technology sales representative for Oracle. "It was the newness, all the amenities, all the beauty of it all."

In the complex, McBeth says that she has everything on-site — she can work out in a fitness center, relax near the pool, watch a movie in the theater’s plush seating, play cards in the billiards room, or mingle with other residents during monthly activities that range from massages and salon treatments to wine and cheese tastings.

"Your workout, your play and your relaxation is all here at home," she says. "It's wonderful."

For years, luxury apartment complexes like this have been associated with bigger cities such as Baltimore and Washington. But as a midway point between the two cities with public transportation and a manageable commute, Howard County is seeing a slew of these properties sprouting up to accommodate residents who want a big-city experience in suburban surroundings.

Lawrence F. Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, first started noticing this shift four to five years ago when Metropolitan, Howard Hughes Corporation’s 380-unit property in downtown Columbia, was built and opened. The upscale building, where rents range from $1,489 for a 646-square-foot one-bedroom apartment to $3,714 a month for a 1,431-square-foot three-bedroom, is at 95 percent occupancy.

“Metropolitan made a big splash. It was one of the first projects,” he says. “Downtown Columbia gets a lot of attention, but now we’re also seeing it in other places as well.”

Traditionally, Howard County has attracted single-family detached housing, according to Twele.

“All of that is still true. But there’s also another demographic that seeks to be in that type of environment where it is more close to the entertainment, dining-destination-type of amenities,” he says, adding that the prices in Howard County are competitive with Baltimore and Washington, where it’s not uncommon for rent costs to start above $2,000 in similar buildings. “You’re seeing younger folks move in to be closer to that. You’re also seeing [older] folks who are downsizing into smaller apartments and condominiums. The demographics are a fairly broad spectrum.”

Twele sees the offerings of luxury apartments as a plus for the county.

“It really has enhanced the ability to attract new talent and new business to Howard County,” he says. “The velocity of the leasing has been fast-paced. That’s where the talent wants to be. That’s where the companies want to be—urban active environments. It represents the reinvigoration of what a suburban market can be.”

Hughes, for example, has erected two more upscale apartment buildings in downtown Columbia — m.flats and TEN.M — and plans to add 6,000 residential units to the county in the next 20 to 30 years. An overwhelming majority will be based on this mixed-use luxury model.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but the remaining units will be a mixture of Class A luxury rental units, for-sale condominiums and seniors housing,” says Ruth Hoang, vice president of development for the company.

At m.flats, which opened in December, and TEN.M, which opened in September, apartments rent for around $1,500 to $3,000 per month, and the sister properties are close to 50 percent full.

About half the residents at the Hughes buildings have moved from outside Howard County, according to Hoang.

“D.C. and Baltimore have always been a transient community,” she says. “That’s the nature of the employment center and the industries [military and politics] that we have. There’s a lot of turnover.”

Regine Joseph and her husband, Justin, had been living at Lakeside At Town Center Condo near Lake Kittamaqundi for seven years. But the newly opened TEN.M enticed them to move in to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the top floor in February.

They’re glad they made the move.

“The amenities are awesome,” says the 41-year-old nurse at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians in Fulton. As a resident, she also has access to m.flats, which is across the street. “They are modern and well-kept. It’s nice to have use of both amenities in both buildings.”

Joseph says her friends love her new place.

“It’s pretty modern,” she says about her white walls with grey furniture and blue accents as pillows and throws. “They love the proximity to the mall and the new dining options there.”

The Josephs considered living in both Baltimore and Washington, but the central location and the access to entertainment made Columbia their top choice.

“I like Columbia because it is a mix of city and suburbs,” she says. “It gives you that city feel in the suburbs.”

And downtown Columbia isn’t the only place that offers this sort of lifestyle. Fulton’s The Vine opened in May, offering apartments with nine-foot ceilings, plus a pet spa, a resort-like pool, electric vehicle charging stations, a two-story clubroom with televisions and billiards, and a fitness center with separate yoga studio. It’s a hop and a skip from the shops and dining of Maple Lawn.

The Residences at Annapolis Junction, meanwhile, are adjacent to the the Savage MARC train station. The property opened in October and is 45 percent occupied.

It’s a no-brainer that people would flock there, according to community manager Devin Quinichette.

“We are brand new. They would be the first people in the apartment,” says Quinichette. Monthly prices range from $1,480 for a 521-square-foot studio to $3,007 for a 1,629-square-foot two-bedroom with a loft. “Plus we’re across the street from the MARC train. You can go into D.C. or Baltimore. And you have complete amenities.”

McBeth, for one, can’t stop gushing about her new digs.

"The location was perfect," she says. "I have great access to the train station if I want to take it. It provides easy access in each direction."

McBeth's two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit allows her to entertain guests or treat her additional room as a home office.

"It's very contemporary and plush," she beams, talking about her granite countertops, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, high ceilings and track lighting. She’s decorated the unit with chocolate chairs, a white couch and splashes of bright colors with fresh flowers and red pillows.

McBeth loves the fact that she's able to live in a luxury property like this without having to live directly in the middle of a large city.

"I wanted to live in a suburban area, but I still wanted to enjoy things," she explains. "This gives me the luxury setting in a secluded area. And it gives me access to the city. It's truly amazing."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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