To go with one of the largest developments in Carroll County history, Richard A. Moore is building a 6,500-yard, par-72 golf course.
But the developer doesn't expect too many golfers to move in.
When planning the 500-acre, 130-home River Downs off Route 91, just across the line from Baltimore County horse country, the president of Gaylord Brooks found that luxury communities with amenities sell better than those without. But when it comes to golf courses, Mr. Moore discovered, it's not just golfers who enjoy being around them.
As sales offices open this weekend and construction starts on model homes and the main road through the hilly, wooded property on Old Lawndale Road, Mr. Moore expects to draw mostly middle- to upper-income professionals who want custom-built homes in the country. Many non-golfers will seek a golf course as a neighbor, if only for the grounds maintenance and lifestyle that come with it, Mr. Moore predicts. He notes that market studies show that fewer than a quarter of golf development homeowners actually play the game.
The developer is also banking on buyers lured by lower land costs and property taxes than in neighboring Baltimore County, good schools and roads that can take homeowners to Owings Mills in 12 minutes and Baltimore in about a half-hour.
Prices of three builders' custom homes range from $300,000 to $450,000, but Mr. Moore isn't bothered by a depressed luxury housing market.
"Our timing appears to be good," he said. "Upscale homes have been the most damaged during the period of recession. That level should enjoy a larger comeback because it's been so depressed the last four years.
"As the market softened, it became apparent these communities that had first-class amenities would be the ones most likely to do well," he said.
River Downs, which will be the Finksburg area's largest development, comes at a time when Carroll County has begun seeing more and more upscale new homes, typically priced up to $350,000, said Marlene Conaway, assistant planning director.
"We seem to be attracting that market in the last few years, drawing a lot from Montgomery County, Gaithersburg and Howard," she said.
Plans to develop one of the largest parcels in the county sparked little controversy, Ms. Conaway said. County officials worked closely with developers to ensure they met stringent environmental standards for golf courses. Developers' environmental-impact studies show that by converting agricultural land to golf course turf, less sediment and nutrients will flow into the Patapsco River and downstream Liberty Reservoir.
Gaylord Brooks, Maryland-based developer of Greenlands of Hunt Valley in Phoenix, Overlook in Cockeysville and Worthington Hillside in Worthington Valley, will develop River Downs in a joint venture -- known as the River Downs Partnership -- between Heritage Properties Inc. and Gaylord Brooks Investment Co. Inc. The first of five phases will include 30 lots.
Models will open in March.
Unlike traditional golf communities that center courses and line homes along the fairway, River Downs will stretch its 18-hole course through the property, offering homeowners frontage or views of greens, lakes, bunkers or first-shot landing areas. David Jensen Associates, Denver land and environmental planning consultants specializing in golf-course communities, designed the master plan, and Arthur Hills and Associates, Ohio-based golf course and landscape architects, designed the clubhouse and course, which will be open to the public on a daily fee basis.
Buyers can select a lot, then choose among three builders: Ashley Group Ltd. of Baltimore County, developer of Velvet Hills in Owings Mills, Valley Brook in Greenspring Valley and Huntspring in the Seminary Road corridor; Shelley Construction Co., builder of about 30 custom homes each year in Howard, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford and Queen Anne's counties; and Talles Homes, known for cluster homes in Owings Mills, estate homes at The Preserve in Howard County and more than 300 homes in Shipley's Choice in Anne Arundel County.
Brick and vinyl or wood and vinyl traditional homes will range in size from about 2,700 square feet to 4,000 square feet, an Ashley representative said. Most models offer four bedrooms, large family rooms, dens or offices, large master bedrooms with bathrooms, fireplaces, two-car garages and decks. About 250 acres of the former farm remain wooded, with the North Branch of the Patapsco River winding through the property. Developers will remodel the site's original farmhouse, restore a deteriorating red dairy barn and retain a small bridge crossing the river for use by golfers. About 35 acres will be cleared to make way for roads and the golf course. More than half the lots will be wooded.
Developers estimate that 162,645 golfers live in a market area that includes Carroll County, parts of Baltimore, Howard and Frederick counties and Baltimore City, and say 11 public courses and 18 private courses can't adequately serve the area.
Other Carroll golf courses include the 27-hole, semiprivate Wakefield Valley in Westminster and the 18-hole Piney Branch Golf and Country Club in Hampstead.
Another golf community, the 90-lot Oakmont Green under construction north of Hampstead, offers homes starting at $280,000 and lots starting at $80,000. A third golf community, Shaladon, has been proposed off Route 27 in Mount Airy.