CREATING A ROW IN COLUMBIA Greenery to abound in River Hill village


Developers at the Rouse Co. call them "hedgerows," borrowing from the English, who love their gardens and greenery. They're long, curved fingers of land on which clumps of trees and shrubbery shall continue to grow wild, though homes are to be built all around.

To Rouse, developer of River Hill, Columbia's last village, the hedgerows are a "visual amenity" that will serve as wooded backdrops -- making yards in the village more attractive and private.

They're also an unusual design feature that preserves flora and fauna, says David E. Forester, the Rouse vice president who is overseeing development of the village.

Indeed, the combination of hedgerows and extensive open space will make River Hill the greenest of Columbia's nine villages, Mr. Forester says.

Fully 54 percent of River Hill's 1,745 acres will be preserved open space, he notes. That's more green space than any of Columbia's other eight villages and should be a marketing point in selling homes built in the community, he points out.

"We've taken extensive measures to preserve wetlands and the environment in this community," says Robert Jenkins, senior project manager for Pheasant Ridge, the first neighborhood of River Hill, located off Trotter Road between Route 108 and Route 32 in the Clarksville area.

Home construction for the first section of the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood should begin by the end of the year, Mr. Forester says. The first section includes 158 building lots, and homes there are expected to sell in the $160,000 to $360,000 range, he says.

Most of the new homes will be traditional in style but a minority will be contemporary or what Rouse calls "transitional," a medley of traditional and contemporary styles.

Rouse, responsible for land development work for River Hill, is selling lots in the first section of Pheasant Hill to nine homebuilding firms, all of them locally based, Mr. Forester says.

Pheasant Hill sales activity should start up this fall. From that point, it is expected to take a year to 18 months for the community to sell out, Mr. Forester predicts.

"Had we offered this subdivision last fall, it would have been premature," Mr. Forester says.

As it is, the Rouse Company thinks an expected improvement in the economy will mean a pickup in the real estate market and will make sales of the subdivision strong. Already, several builders have waiting lists for homes in the new community.

"We know there is strong demand because there is already a lot of interest in this subdivision," Mr. Forester says.

Demand for homes in Pheasant Ridge should be enhanced in the future by the fact that, at the point when the homes are being actively marketed, only one other Columbia residential area -- Hobbits Glen -- will have newly built homes for sale, Mr. Forester says.

Although there will be only 158 lots in the first section of the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood, and all of these will be for single-family detached homes, River Hill will eventually be much larger and will include multifamily housing.

Of the 2,200 to 2,300 housing units planned for the village, 500 will be multifamily units, Mr. Forester says.

Even so, when River Hill is built out it will have a much larger percentage of single-family detached housing than Columbia's other villages. River Hill will be 80 percent single-family ZTC detached, compared with 50 percent to 60 percent in the other villages, he says.

Land for River Hill and Columbia's other villages was acquired in the early 1960s and the first residents arrived in 1967. The plan was for Columbia to be built out in terms of residential construction by 1980.

But Rouse Co. developers discovered that as time passed, the residential development process became increasingly arduous and time-consuming. Environmental requirements and other standards have become increasingly stringent in Howard County, Mr. Forester says.

"It takes longer to develop now than it did in the early stages of Columbia. What 10 years ago took 12 months to develop, today takes 18 to 24 months to develop," the Rouse vice president said.

Much of the open space in the new River Hill village is located in the Middle Patuxent River valley. It's a rolling area with a rustic country feeling. Here are dense patches of oak, maple, beech and sycamore. Here, too, an array of bird life abounds.

Mr. Forester said the valley was originally proposed as the site of a man-made lake. "But about 20 years ago, the decision was made to preserve the land because of the unique environmental setting there," he added.

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