Two years ago, when developers began building the Seven Oaks community in western Anne Arundel County, the property near the junction of Routes 175 and 32 was mostly woods and farmland.
Last year, trees were cleared on part of the 725-acre tract and roads were built to provide access to the initial home sites.
This year, 281 houses and apartments are in place and occupied, and many more are under construction.
That's how fast the landscape is changing these days in western Anne Arundel County, where three large residential communities are expected to add 12,000 new homes -- with 30,000 residents -- during the 1990s.
Seven Oaks, Piney Orchard and Russett are the names of the three communities under construction within seven miles of each other in the Odenton-Fort Meade area, which county officials have designated a growth area as part of an effort to divert some of the building activity from Annapolis-Parole and other coastal areas.
The three communities are known as Planned Unit Developments or PUDs -- the technical term for large, mixed-use projects whose owners have obtained special county zoning approval to develop land in a more comprehensive way than the typical freestanding subdivision. Each will have between 3,000 and 4,800 residences -- about the size of one of the villages in Columbia.
In a sense, they are the new neighborhoods of the 1990s -- prototypes for development in a region where anti-growth sentiment and uncertain economic conditions are combining to make suburban homebuilding more difficult than ever.
"This is the '90s version of trying to create a desirable neighborhood from scratch," said Gordon C. Berry, an associate of Legg Mason Real Estate Group, which monitors building activity throughout the region. "It's difficult to do. You didn't create Ruxton overnight. Now these are the emerging neighborhoods."
Over the next 10 to 12 years, the three communities are expected to result in a combined investment of more than $2 billion and account for at least half of all homebuilding activity in the western part of the county.
"I don't think they're going to be the only game in town, but they're going to represent a significant supply of land in the Baltimore-Washington corridor," Mr. Berry said. "They're going to exert an influence on the homebuilding business because they have the land and they have the infrastructure."
Besides bringing in new residents, the projects are expected to help transform the image of the Odenton area from a tawdry "Boomtown" of go-go bars and fast-food joints serving Fort Meade to a clean, miniature version of Columbia in adjacent Howard County.
And although there is some concern about how well all three projects will fare in competition with each other, and a lingering -- controversy about how at least one of them ought to take shape, housing industry observers and the developers themselves say each is well-positioned for success even in a stagnant economy.
They point out that all three communities are strategically located between Baltimore and Washington and between Annapolis and Columbia, and that they stand to benefit especially from the restrictions on homebuilding that have been imposed in Howard County.
The communities also are close to job centers such as the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Westinghouse Corp., Goddard Space Flight Center, and the National Security Agency, and have easy access to major roads and the MARC commuter train line.
And they will offer amenities that many smaller subdivisions do not -- from pools, tennis courts and other recreational facilities to convenience shops within walking distance, nature trails and, in one case, even an ice skating arena.
"A PUD has more to offer than an individual subdivision," said Stephen Fleischman, vice president of the Halle Companies, the Silver Spring-based developer of Seven Oaks. "Once the PUD is done you have ball fields, swimming pools, rec centers, tennis courts. It's all planned ahead."
"I don't want to say that smaller subdivisions will go away. There always will be smaller subdivisions," said Joel Mostrom, president of Curtis F. Peterson Inc., the managing general partner of the team building Russett. "But I believe the way the county has legislated the adequate-facilities ordinance, the only proper way to address growth and management in new communities is if you have a development of a size and scale that is able to carry the burden of infrastructure improvements. That's why I believe large-scale PUDs will be the dominant way of developing communities in the future."
Mr. Berry of Legg Mason said all three developers are seeking to take advantage of their key location between Baltimore and Washington.
"The play is the corridor," he said. "It's a response to the growth of the corridor, and the joining of the two metropolitan areas. The land was there. The transportation was there. Anne Arundel County has had more road construction recently than any other county in Maryland, even Montgomery.
"Baltimore-Washington International Airport is 10 miles away. Columbia is 10 miles away. They should be able to offer advantages over Washington prices. Howard County has growth restrictions. They're going to try to appeal to all these markets, and they can."
Planned unit developments have been around since the 1960s, when Columbia in Maryland and Reston in Virginia showed that large tracts of land could be developed in an orderly and livable fashion. Planners use them today to help control growth and to encourage more creative designs than the cookie-cutter subdivisions built after World War II.
No county in the Baltimore area has as many PUDs as Anne Arundel County, where five are in various stages of planning and construction. In addition to the three around Fort Meade, others include South River Colony, an 897-unit PUD proposed by Friendswood Development Corp. for a 1,200-acre site south of Annapolis, and Tanyard Cove, a mixed-use development planned by CSX Realty for a large waterfront parcel in the county's Marley Neck area.
Each of the Odenton developments began with a process in which a single developer spends years negotiating with county officials to obtain approval of a master plan, makes a large upfront investment to build the roads and required infrastructure and sells finished lots to other builders who construct the actual houses,apartments and condominiums.
The developments also have or will have a number of the same physical features, including extensive landscaping, elaborate recreational facilities and ample open space. They are seeking to attract generally the same diverse mix of buyers -- people from Columbia, Glen Burnie and Annapolis as well as communities closer to Washington, such as Laurel and Greenbelt.
As construction proceeds, each community is likely to take on a more distinctive character. Part of their identities will be shaped by the look of the landscaping and the quality of the fences, signs, lights and other elements within common areas. Other impressions will be created by the way the houses are laid out, the prices builders charge and the mixture of dwelling types, including town houses, condominiums and single-family detached houses.
Following is a brief outline of the three communities and what they are expected to offer:
Seven Oaks: Directly across Route 175 from Fort Meade, Seven Oaks is the furthest along of the three PUDs and the only one where houses are already built and occupied. A group called Arundel West Associates controlled the land in the mid-1980s and obtained preliminary approval for the PUD. It then sold the property for $16 million to Halle, which is developing the land and also building some of the town houses and apartments. Mr. Fleischman, the Halle vice president, said Seven Oaks is modeled after Kingstowne, a 5,500-unit community that Halle is building with great success in Fairfax County, Va.
The master plan for Seven Oaks calls for the construction of up to 4,767 units over 10 to 12 years, including 390 single-family detached homes, 877 town houses and 3,500 multifamily units, both rental and condominiums. At present, the site has sewer capacity for more than 2,600 units. The first phase has seven builders: Halle Enterprises, Stanley Halle Communities, Winchester Homes, NVHomes, Ryan Homes, Coscan Homes and Crestwood Homes. Prices range from $116,900 for town houses to $230,000 or more for single-family detached residences. M. K. Enterprises of Silver Spring is the land planner, and Washington Federal Savings Bank is the prime lender.
CIn addition to the residences, about 80 acres of Halle's land falls within the Odenton Town Center. The developer is seeking approval to construct up to 2 million square feet of office and commercial space, but specific plans have not been approved for that part of the project. Last week, the Anne Arundel County Council passed a growth-control law that reduces the level of construction allowed in the town center, limits building heights to eight stories and requires the developers to set aside 25 percent of their property as open space.
As a result, Mr. Fleischman said, the development team will not donate six acres of land for a new MARC train station, as it previously offered to do, and will not build a proposed interchange from Route 32 into the town center at a cost of $12.5 million. Halle is still planning to build a 140,000-square-foot strip retail center on Route 175 starting next year in order to provide a grocery store and other convenience shops for Seven Oaks residents.
Halle also has filed an $18 million lawsuit against the county, claiming it should be exempted from paying certain fees under the county's adequate public facilities rules.
Halle officials argue that because the county council voted in May against expanding the Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant, the company cannot begin construction of 2,000 of the units planned as part of Seven Oaks and should not be required to pay for the county improvements until the Patuxent expansion is approved.
County officials say they have signed documents in which Halle officials agreed to pay $500,000 in 1989, which they did, another $2.1 million on July 1, 1990, a payment that has not yet been made, and a third payment in 1991. A hearing on the case is scheduled to take place in the county's Circuit Court later this week.
Piney Orchard: Initial home building activity is just beginning on this 1,200-acre tract, which is accessible from Route 170, just south of Route 175, and less than two miles from Seven Oaks.
The land was assembled starting in the 1950s by the Winer family, which owned National Plastics Product Co., now Nevamar Corp., and envisioned construction of a company town for employees. In the 1980s, family member Jay Winer joined forces with The KMS Group of Columbia, which later became a subsidiary of the Constellation Real Estate Group, the real estate development arm of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
KMS is the land developer for Piney Orchard and has been signing up individual homebuilders, who are expected to begin work on their parcels starting this fall.
The county-approved master plan calls for construction of up to 4,000 residences, as well as 2 million square feet of commercial and office space in an adjacent business park.
The first phase includes a 15,000-square-foot community center, which will open in late 1990 or early 1991 and serve as an exhibition center for builders as well. KMS has also set aside 25acres for commercial space, including movie theaters, a grocery store and other businesses, fronting on a man-made lake. The master plan calls for the highest-density housing to be closest to the commercial section, dropping to town houses and single-family detached housing near the entrance to the community. Prices will start at less than $120,000 for town houses.
Piney Orchard currently has its main roads in place, as well as fences, brick walls and extensive landscaping. The first builder, Ryan Homes, began construction of a 109-unit town house project called The Courts last week.
According to KMS senior vice president Robert Strott, a second town house builder, Troutman Co. of Columbia., will build 89 units. KMS is also negotiating with Shelter Homes, which is planning 258 apartments, Capital Homes, which is planning 155 condominiums, and Artery Corp., which would build town houses, Mr. Strott said.
For the first parcel of single-family detached homes, KMS is working with the Home Builders Association of Maryland to sponsor "Dream Homes 91," a three-week festival of show houses that will be built by and represent the work of up to eight different local builders.
"What we've tried to do is create a new destination," Mr. Strott said. "When you come off the state roads, we want you to have a sense of arrival, to feel like you've come to a place that is very high in quality. We have spent over $1 million in landscaping and irrigation systems alone. It's not just helter-skelter planning."
KMS has targeted 18 acres for a school, three acres for the county's recreation and parks department and nine acres for a $2.6 million indoor skating arena that will serve as a training facility for the Washington Capitals and Baltimore Skipjacks hockey teams as well as a recreational amenity for the community, Mr. Strott said.
It also has begun preliminary site work on the business park. Land Design/Research is the land planner for the community. Columbia Design Collective is the architect of the sales center.
Russett: The third community to get under way is actually the first approved by the county. The 613-acre tract at the northwest quadrant of Route 198 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway received preliminary designation as a PUD in the late 1960s but the owners, a group headed by Weaver Bros., never moved ahead with a project.
The land was acquired in 1987 by a group called Russett Center Limited Partership, whose general partner is Curtis F. Peterson Inc. Its partners are Lovell Land Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Y. J. Lovell Holdings, one of the largest contractors in Britain, and Coscan/Adler Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Coscan Corp. Canada. They have approval to build more than 4,900 units, but the latest plans call for only about 3,000 units over the next eight to 10 years, according to Mr. Mostrom, president of Peterson.
One-quarter of the housing will be single-family detached residences -- the highest percentage of detached housing in any of the three PUDs. Thirty-five percent of the units will be multifamily, and 40 percent will be town houses. Phase one will have 1,290 units in eight separate parcels, including
town houses, 395 apartments, 240 condominiums and 236 single- family detached houses. Phase two will have 900 units, and Phase three, 800 units.
The first builder identified for the community is Miller and Smith, which plans to construct 212 town houses. Bozzuto and Associates plans to build apartments. The Barrington Group, a Curtis F. Peterson affiliate, also likely will be active at Russett.
Home construction is expected to begin by the spring of 1991, and initial units will be ready for occupancy by fall 1991 or early 1992. A sales center also will be built starting in the spring of 1991. Prices in Russett will range from $100,000 for condominiums and $120,000 for entry-level town houses to $240,000 for large single-family detached houses.
The developers are placing a special emphasis on protecting the natural environment and plan to leave one third of the land in its undeveloped state and create a wildlife sanctuary.
Architectural design is another special emphasis of the team, which has established a blue ribbon design review board and hired internationally known architect Charles Moore to create the community center and sales office for the project.
The developers also are donating land to Anne Arundel County for a library with the request that Mr. Moore be allowed to design it as well.
The two signature buildings are expected to form the beginnings of a village square that will help set the tone for the community.
Russett also will be one of the first new communities in Anne Arundel County to be planned with some of the neotraditional concepts pioneered by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater Zyberk at Kentlands in Montgomery County and other new communities around the nation.
Neotraditional communities employ proven 19th century town planning concepts, such as building homes on a rectilinear grid of streets rather than curvy roads and cul de sacs, and mixing commercial uses with residential so people don't have to depend so much on their cars.
But Russett will be something of a hybrid between Kentlands and Columbia, planners say, because even though old-fashioned town planning ideas are in vogue at present, many builders like the privacy of curving roads and cul de sacs, and Russett's wooded terrain lends itself to less grid-like street patterns.
Niles Bolton Associates of Atlanta is the land planner, and HOH ** Associates of Alexandria, Va., is a design consultant.
One early sign of acceptance of the PUDs in western Anne Arundel County is the sales pace of Ryan Homes, which began marketing 77 lots in the first phase of Seven Oaks in 1989 and had only four left as of last week. Its pace of more than six sales per month has made it one of the fastest-selling communities in the county in the 1990, according to Legg Mason Realty Group's Housing Market Profiles survey.
Ryan recently launched sales for another 109 houses in Piney Orchard and has taken 17 reservations even before beginning construction, according to sales representative Doug Milburn.
Mr. Milburn said PUDs are ideal for companies such as Ryan because they allow the company to do what it does best -- build homes -- and not spend so much time on site preparation. They are also appealing to today's buyers, who look at the whole community as well as the individual houses, he said.
"When you get back to these, you get back to more of a neighborhood," he said. "There's a lot more thought put into it -- into traffic flow, safety for kids, privacy. There's more to do. In some communities, there are no meeting places for people, no community areas. This makes it easier to know your neighbors and trust your neighbors."
Another firm that likes working in PUDs is Bozzuto and Associates, a Beltsville-based developer of apartments and condominiums. In addition to Russett, the company is active in Kentlands, Crofton, Columbia, Reston, Owings Mills New Town and Montgomery Village.
According to Richard Boales, vice president in charge of development for Bozzuto, the company gravitates to PUDs because that is where it can find land already zoned for apartments or condominiums and because so much of the site work is done by the developer.
"Builders have found it more and more attractive to get into a situation where they can buy a parcel for their specific project," he said. "They don't have to worry about building streets and utilities or other issues. Those are addressed by the developer of the PUD. We are in effect retail buyers rather than wholesale buyers of land."
From a marketing standpoint, too, builders say, PUDs have gained acceptance because they address so many issues of the 1990s, such as the backlash against uncontrolled sprawl.
"People know what they'll be getting in the future," Mr. Boales said.
"They won't wake up in two years and see the back end of a shopping center staring at them."
"The community associations and county officials say they have seen so many cases where the maximum number of houses has just been jammed onto the land, and the builder just walks away," Mr. Strott said.
"But they know we're in there for the long haul, and if there are any problems, we'll be there to correct them."
In addition, PUDs typically have been able to survive in a slow market because they are so large and are designed to appeal to many different market niches.
Unlike a stand-alone subdivision by one builder, PUDs have a special "synergy" created when five or more builders work together, Mr. Mostrom said. "Presumably, one plus one isn't just two if you have five strong builders. It's that synergy that you're banking on."
Is there room for all three communities near Odenton? The developers clearly believe so.
"Intelligent buyers are going to visit all three and make their decisions depending on what their needs are," Mr. Strott said. "It's like having three gas stations on the same corner. Each done well will complement the other."
"They're going to compete against each other. There's no question about that," Mr. Berry said.
But the potential is there for all of them to be successful, he said. "If you look at it in the long term, the regulatory environment isn't going to go away. There is a finite supply of land in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and these are major parcels. . . As Will Rogers said, 'They aren't making any more land.' "
In a sense, the competition is healthy because it encourages better quality housing, said Mr. Milburn of Ryan Homes.
"Everyone's watching each other. They all check each other out. [A builder is] not going to be able to come in here and build boxes."
Ultimately, the real winners ought to be the buyers who move into the communities, Mr. Milburn said.
"This isn't going to be a badly planned county," he said.
"We're not going to look back in 10 years and say, 'Oh my, we should have done it this way.' We've learned some lessons from what the surrounding counties have done wrong, and I think the buyers will be happier because of that."
The landscape in western Anne Arundel County is changing rapidly with new subdivisions.