New development has look of Williamsburg houses


A Baltimore County developer's vision of bringing a touch of old Williamsburg, Va., to a new project in Maryland is becoming a reality in Dembeigh Hill, just north of the city line.

The result is large houses with antiqued oversized bricks, split cedar shake roofs, handcrafted millwork and hefty selling prices.

"A traditional house in Baltimore is the mainstay [of the market]," said builder R. Emmett Voelkel III, "since the lots are expensive, we just dressed it up a bit more. Our lots are tight, only about a third of an acre, and I noticed Williamsburg houses are also close together."

Construction began two years ago on the 17-lot project on West Lake Avenue near Boys' Latin School.

Mr. Voelkel said he thinks Dembeigh Hill will appeal to people who want the atmosphere of Roland Park but would prefer to live in a new house and avoid Baltimore property taxes.

Four houses in the development have been built. Three are occupied, and the fourth house, which has 3,400 square feet of living space, is on the market for $498,500. The house has four bedrooms, three baths, a study and a large two-car garage.

Inspired after a trip to Williamsburg, Mr. Voelkel studied the architecture of the historic Virginia town and found period details he incorporated into the houses he built at Dembeigh. The exterior brick simulates a handmade look with its irregular shape and a facing that looks old and weathered.

Also typical of the period is the roof, which has a high pitch and is covered in split cedar shake. Over the windows are Colonial keystone lintels, and under the eaves are handcrafted moldings.

The famous houses of Williamsburg are in the Georgian style that was made popular in England by architect Sir Christopher Wren. About 1700, the Georgian period of U.S. architecture began with the construction of the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. That building was followed by the Governor's Palace and the Capitol in Williamsburg.

While the Williamsburg influence is visible in the house for sale at 21 Dembeigh Hill Circle, it does not have the rigid symmetry and centered entrances that Georgian design is most noted for. The Dembeigh Hill house has an off-center entrance and has an asymmetrical three-part construction that was inspired by the five-part compositions of the mid-Georgian period.

The five-part composition consisted of a large central building with smaller connected sections that was popular with builders of Colonial country estates in Maryland and Virginia.

The Georgian period ended during the Revolutionary War, but some builders continued to use the style into the 19th century.

The Dembeigh Hill development is on the site of a 17-acre estate that was once owned by Thomas Cour

tenay Jenkins Sr., an investment banker. Informally, The Jenkins family called the property Denbigh, after their ancestral home in northern Wales.

After Mr. Jenkins died in 1942, the property was bought by James Keelty Jr., whose development company built a large part of Rodgers Forge, Timonium and Mays Chapel. Later, Dr. Frank Ayd, a psychiatrist, bought the land and started development plans that were never completed.

Several years ago, R. Emmett Voelkel III's father, Robert E. Voelkel Jr., bought the property and started new development plans. Robert Voelkel, who heads the land development company Reval Enterprises, is married to the former Alice

(Martha A.) Knott. Her father is Henry Knott, whose development company built numerous residential and commercial projects around the Baltimore area, including the Lakehurst community that borders Dembeigh Hill.

The property had a large, clap-board house that had fallen into disrepair and was torn down last year. During the tearing down of the house, the Voelkels uncovered old random-width heart-pine floors.

They salvaged the floors, re-milled the wood and used it for the floors in the house built for Robert and Alice Voelkel in the Dembeigh Hill development. The Voelkels also used large support beams that were in the basement of the old house as exposed ceiling beams in the family room of their new home.

Also preserved are several large old trees and shrubs that have been incorporated into the new landscape plans. One house has a substantial evergreen tree with a ring of boxwood shrubs. "I personally like that tree," Emmett Voelkel said. He also pointed out that a brick patio the laid out was designed to let moss grow in the cracks "to make it look old."

Richard Butchok, president of the Lakehurst Community Association, said the organization opposed original development plans that called for an exit onto Lakehurst Drive. That proposal was changed, and now the

only entrance to the Dembeigh Hill development is from West Lake Avenue.

Another bone of contention in the neighborhood, Mr. Butchok said, is an old building on the Dembeigh property that first served as a barn, then a garage and is now used for storage.

Some neighbors were upset when they found there were plans to convert the structure into a house. That issue has not been resolved.

Larry Pezzullo, executive director of Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, recently bought a house in the development. He said he likes the house and the area. "The house has good styling and doesn't look like every other house you see," he explained.

Mr. Pezzullo also said he likes being near an MTA bus line and that it takes only a 20-minute bus ride and a five-minute walk for him to reach his office on West Fayette Street downtown.

With four houses built and three sold, Mr. Voelkel says he is optimistic that there is a market for his houses, which had been selling for around $600,000.

Mr. Voelkel says he is building one house at a time and, if necessary, is considering scaling back some of the detail work of the interiors in future houses to reduce cost.

He also said he is interested in building custom homes on some of the lots. R. Emmett Voelkel started his building company five years ago, when he built three houses in Glen Arm. Although Emmett Voelkel worked on many of his grandfather's building projects before starting his own firm, Emmett Voelkel took time out to become a CPA and work for the Baltimore accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand for three years. This was done at the urging of his grandfather, a former brick layer, who insisted that builders had to have a trade to fall back on, Emmett Voelkel said.

Marc Witman of the Roland Park office of Meredith Real Estate/Better Homes and Gardens is handling sales for the development.

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