Contested 55-and-older Towson community reaches summit

Model home at new Stoneleigh Summit development in Towson.
Model home at new Stoneleigh Summit development in Towson. (Photo courtesy MacKenzie Communities.)

Stoneleigh Summit, a 55-plus community in Towson, kicked off this past Saturday with the official opening of its model house, near 6901Sherwood Road. For residents of the Stoneleigh and Idlewylde neighborhoods, though, Stoneleigh Summit hardly comes as a surprise. It follows a decade-long slog through the Baltimore County development process that was, at times, contentious.

"We had 300 people at the public meeting when the plan was first heard. We had pickets in front of the Country Club of Maryland's driveway," said Cynthia Jabs, a board member of the Idlewylde Community Association who organized and represented the association and other neighborhoods in negotiations with the country club, which owned the property and proposed the development plan.

With more than $1 billion in private investment in Towson's redevelopment since 2009 -- which includes 2,700 completed and proposed townhomes and apartments -- many are looking for the funding necessary to provide more open space in Towson to accommodate that growth.

The property, 13.8 acres next to the club's golf course, was vacant and wooded when the country club proposed a development of 56 single-family houses in 2005. The project would have required a zoning change to allow for that density, according to Jabs.

The negotiations centered on the neighboring communities' concerns about school overcrowding, traffic on Sherwood Road and the nearly 150 acres of vacant country club land that could be developed in the future.


The neighborhood schools are Stoneleigh Elementary, Dumbarton Middle and Towson High. Sherwood Road is a narrow dead-end road without sidewalks.

A year later, in 2006, the negotiations ended in a settlement agreement. The agreement permitted a smaller project, from 56 single-family to 36 semi-attached houses, but prohibited further development of the country club's vacant land.

"We worked out a compromise," said Jabs, whose neighborhood coalition had hoped to block the project entirely but was satisfied to have permanent easements on the vacant land. "We were concerned that this [project] would be the first of several developments."

The 45-year-old, member-owned Eagle's Nest Country Club, in Phoenix, officially retired $4.8 million in bank debt last month — and saved itself from possible closure — after an 11th-hour fundraising appeal that spurred many of its 500 members to open their hearts and their checkbooks.

However, the drama wasn't over. Just as the path to the project was cleared, the U.S. economy took a nosedive. By 2008, the real estate market had bottomed out and the country club had not broken ground. Nothing changed until last year when MacKenzie Communities, LLC, the residential development division of MacKenzie Ventures, came into the picture.

MacKenzie bought the county- and neighborhood-approved plan, which included the settlement agreement, from the Country Club of Maryland for $2.47 million. The settlement agreement required that the 36 semi-attached houses be age-restricted, for the 55-plus housing market.

"That attracted my interest," said Robb Aumiller, president of MacKenzie Communities, a land developer.

During the real estate drop, senior adults were among those hardest hit. "They wanted to sell their houses" and transition into "empty-nester" housing, "but there was no market then," Aumiller said.

Now, however, Aumiller sees that market returning. "I think there will be a strong demand [for 55-plus communities], and there is not a lot of housing stock in Baltimore County and in Towson," he said.

Kathleen Williams, a realtor with Long & Foster and a board member of the Stoneleigh Community Association, agreed. She couldn't think of a single such community in Towson although there are some in the Lutherville-Timonium and Mays Chapel areas.

"There is definitely a need for it," said Williams, who has clients interested in Stoneleigh Summit. "Towson is always written up as a great place to live, so this is an option for empty-nesters."

Stoneleigh Summit is being built in 18 groups, two units per group, for the 36 semi-attached houses. The gated community is organized as a Homeowners Association, or HOA, that will maintain the landscaping and road. Houses must be occupied by residents 55 or older, or by families or couples where at least one person is 55 or older.

MacKenzie is calling the houses "villa-style," to indicate a floor plan that puts the master bedroom on the first floor. Each house has a basement and second floor. There are two styles, one with the garage in the front and the other with the garage in the rear facing an alley. House sizes range from 2,400 square feet up to 3,800 square feet with a finished basement.


Ryan Homes is building the houses, whose base price is $589,990. "A lot of upgrades were included in this base price," said Aumiller said. "There are still options for further upgrades, like a finished basement or a screened-in porch."

A group of about two dozen black Towson University students brought a list of 13 demands to the school's interim President Timothy Chandler's office Wednesday and reviewed them with him until after midnight, when he pledged to address them.

The base price is above current market value for the neighborhood. On average, houses sell from the high $300,000s to the low $400,000s, said Williams, adding that Stoneleigh Summit "should bring up real estate values."

John Keenan, vice president of the Idlewylde Community Association, lives on Sherwood Road, a stone's throw from the new project. The last time he looked, his house was valued at $350,000. "It's going to make the comps on real estate look good," Keenan said about Stoneleigh Summit.

Keenan praised MacKenzie for being responsive to residents. MacKenzie has planted more landscaping than required, installed a cul-de-sac at the end of Sherwood Road to create a proper turnaround and improved one resident's driveway.

"I think a 55-plus community is going to be good for the neighborhood," Keenan said.

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