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STRUCK BY LIGHTNING SALES Prices, setting draw buyers to River Hill

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Larry Rosenberg knew he was on to a good thing when, in the span of just one day last summer, he received contracts on the 12 homesites his company planned to develop in River Hill, Columbia's newest village.

The president of Mark Building Company quickly signed on with Columbia's developer, the Rouse Co., to buy 49 lots in a new section of the village that Rouse plans to open up to development this fall.

River Hill, the last planned village in Columbia, is attracting a lotof interest from potential buyers. Rouse officials say all but two of the 158 lots in Pheasant Ridge, the first neighborhood to be developed, have been sold.

And builders say they are looking forward to starting construction in the next neighborhood, Pointers Run. Rouse plans to open a model home park in the neighborhood this October, said David Forester, vice president and senior development director at Rouse. The developer has 11 builders signed on to build homes in Pointers Run, and nine of those builders are expected to have models in the park.

The developer's March 1993 population report projects River Hill to have 209 homes by year's end. By the end of 1994, Rouse expects more than 600 homes in the village.

About 5,300 residents are expected to be settled in the village by the end of 1998 -- up from 357 at the end of 1992.

Mr. Rosenberg, the builder, attributes the lightning-like sales of his properties to two factors:

First, the company kept prices moderate on its three- and four-bedroom detached homes; and second, the rolling, woodsy Howard County landscape near the Middle Patuxent River has a decidedly bucolic appeal. Much of the property, bordered by Routes 108 and 32, once served as a game hunting preserve.

Other builders developing lots in River Hill, on the west side of Columbia near Clarksville, also say they've found buyers drawn by the wooded and rural panoramas.

"There's a seclusion about the property that makes it really appealing and it's got some very panoramic views," says Maurice Simpkins, a vice president with Ryland Homes.

Ryland has sold all but two of the 42 homesites it is developing in the Pheasant Ridge section. Ryland plans to build on 50 homesites in Pointers Run.

Builders also credit the village's appeal to a planned public high school nearby and proximity to important roads, particularly Route 32. The two-lane road runs most notably between Interstate 70 in the northwest section of Howard County to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County near Howard County's southeast border.

The state plans to straighten a portion of Route 32 near the village this summer.

Village center

River Hill's village center, where offices, shops and other services will be clustered, is planned for a 1996 opening.

The appeal of the area is in part due to its proximity to the Middle Patuxent River and a huge swath of protected forested area through which the river runs, called the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.

Rouse has also planned the entire village to have a significantly higher percentage of protected open space than Columbia's other nine villages, Mr. Forester said.

More than 50 percent of the village has been reserved as open space, said Mr. Forester, the Rouse executive. Overall, about 37 percent of Columbia's land is protected.

River Hill will be particularly distinct from Columbia's other villages in that it will have a much lower percentage of townhouses and apartments.

On average, Columbia's villages have a 50-50 mix of single-family detached homes and townhouses and apartments.

River Hill, though, will be heavily developed with detached homes -- about 85 percent, Mr. Forester said. The rest of the village will be developed with townhouses and apartments.

Rouse had sought zoning from the county to develop the village with its usual mix of townhouses, apartments and detached homes. But opposition from area residents blocked that plan, Mr. Forester said.

Lots developed so far in the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood are exclusively detached single-family homes.

Most of those homes are New England, Colonial, Victorian and Williamsburg designs with contemporary flourishes such as two-car garages, backyard decks and porticos.

First-floor master bedrooms and expansive master baths can be found in some higher-end models.

Home prices vary

Prices vary widely in Pheasant Ridge.

For example, Mr. Rosenberg's Mark Building Company listed its New England-style homes at $145,000 to $210,000. The homes ranged from 1,800 to 2,800 square feet.

Other builders, such as NU-Homes, offered homes up to 4,000 square feet. The larger-style homes are offered at prices ranging from $300,000 to $450,000.

Mr. Simpkins, the Ryland executive, said Ryland offered a variety of styles in several price ranges. Homes in more moderate price ranges sold faster than higher-end homes, he said.

In the Pheasant Ridge area, Ryland built about 30 homes, selling for between $210,00 and $300,000, and about 12 homes which listed for more than $300,000.

As a result of the strong sales pace of the more moderately priced homes, said Mr. Simpkins, Ryland hopes to offer a series of smaller homes for the Pointers Run neighborhood that are to list for $180,000 to $225,000.

Some new designs

Ryland also plans a series of new designs for other lots in the new neighborhood -- including homes with master bedrooms on the first floor -- that will be offered from the low $200,000 range to $300,000, he said.

Other builders also are planning to target buyers looking for moderately priced homes in the new section of River Hill.

For example, Columbia-based Patriot Homes plans to build Williamsburg style homes on 45 lots in Pointers Run, offering all ,, of the properties at prices below $200,000.

"Our goal is the $170,000 to $180,000 range," said Rick Kunkle, the company's president. "We've found that a very strong segment of the market in the Columbia area."

Most builders selling homes in River Hill have found a majority of their buyers are Columbia residents looking to move into larger, more expensive homes.

Another strong segment of buyers are coming from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, such as Silver Spring, and from the Laurel area, River Hill builders say.

"We're seeing a mix of the move-up buyer in Columbia and people coming out of the Laurel and Silver Spring areas," Mr. Simpkins explained.

"We don't expect that trend to change a whole lot in the new River Hill section."

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