In the late 1970s, when Mark A. Wakefield decided to develop an upscale neighborhood in rural Howard County, the property was "so far out" the developer called it "Farside."
"I remember when they first started selling lots," recalls Elaine Northrop, an agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. who specializes in selling luxury homes. "It seemed so far out, we didn't know who would buy there . . . . Farside had a hard time taking off back then."
But today, Farside is decidedly in the center of things -- in the luxury home market, that is.
Its location is no longer considered the boondocks and the only ** vestige of its former off-the-beaten-path reputation is its name, which has nothing to do with the better-known cartoon.
"We're not The Farside -- that's the cartoon. We're just Farside," says Carolyn "Casey" Willis, who has lived in the Ellicott City community for the past 10 years.
Although other luxury neighborhoods have sprung up in the county -- the Preserve, the Chase Buckskin Lake, Triadelphia Woods, among others -- real estate agents, builders and residents say Farside has retained its rank among prestigious neighborhoods even though homes in newer subdivisions surpass it in size and price.
The now-deceased Mr. Wakefield's penchant for landscaping and aesthetics helped Farside keep its value, says Ken Steil, president of the Howard County Association of Realtors and an agent with American Properties.
"I'd say it's hung in there because of the quality of the job Mr. Wakefield did in developing it. He cared very much about landscape, was very concerned about plantings," he says. "That's one of the key attractions, and clearly its location as well. It's convenient to Columbia and Ellicott City, to shopping and services."
Farside's elegant entrance catches a visitor's attention -- the divided road with beautifully landscaped center gives the feeling of opulence. A large pond is located on the community's west side; the east side backs to the Middle Patuxent River.
The main road ends in a loop with several gracefully curving cul-de-sacs located off either side. The neighborhood has just six streets. The large lots, ranging from 3 to 12 acres, follow the lay of the land beautifully, says builder Gary Clark, president of GYC homes.
"He started with a very nice piece of land," says Mr. Clark, who built eight homes in the community, more than any other builder. "And Mr. Wakefield always respected the trees and hills and slopes, which enhanced it further."
Another attraction is the open space off nearby Homewood and Folly Quarter roads, 941 acres of which belongs to the University of Maryland Central Farm and another 196 to the Franciscan Friars.
Before development of the 270-acre Farside, the most prestigious area in Howard County was Woodmark, just a few miles away off Carroll Mill Road. It was also developed by Mr. Wakefield.
Although Woodmark contains many beautiful homes, it's not mentioned when agents are asked to name the most expensive and sought-after neighborhoods in the county. But Farside always is.
"It was really the first of its kind -- a three-acre estate community. I thought it was the premier community in the county when I started buying lots there," says Mr. Clark, adding that Mr. Wakefield struggled to get Farside going during its first three years. Lots, which cost $65,000 to $90,000, were considered high-priced back then and the new home market was flat.
But by 1982, the year before Mr. Wakefield died, lot sales were picking up. "He lived to see it turn a corner, I believe," says Mr. Clark, adding that he had never doubted that Farside would be a success.
Today, many well-known Howard Countians call Farside home, including Ms. Willis, a former county public information officer; developer Patrick McCuan; David DiFerdinando, president and founder of Boardwalk Fries; and William Munn, who recently sold his company, Maryland Environmental Systems, to BGE.
Family incomes generally exceed $200,000, real agents say, in a neighborhood where most houses sell for $500,000 to $1 million. Doctors, lawyers, developers, business owners and executives live in Farside, which boasts a good mix of young and old, with children of all ages, according to residents.
"There's just a lovely group of families here," says Teri Droege, who relocated from Miami with her husband, Greg, and bought a lot in 1980. "We were the fifth house in here, and at first, we were afraid there would be no children. We thought the people would be older.
You know, had 'made it.' But there turned out to be a beautiful mix of children," says Mrs. Droege, who has two of her own -- ages 10 and 4.
Perched on hilly lots or set off in gentle valleys are houses of many architectural styles -- contemporaries, transitionals and traditionals -- all custom built, says Mr. Steil. Farside has more contemporaries than most neighborhoods, probably because the topography lends itself to less traditional styles, he says.
Six homes have sold in the past two years, ranging in price from $354,000 to $949,000. The only available lot in the neighborhood -- 3.6 acres off Cedar Line Court -- is listed at $225,000.
Most people buying in Farside work in Baltimore City or Howard County, says Ms. Northrop, although she and other agents have shown homes to people with jobs in Washington, Annapolis and elsewhere.
Many of Farside's 170 or so residents say they chose the neighborhood for its beauty, not its image.
"Most of us say we live off Homewood Road. We don't say Farside," says Ms. Willis, explaining that people sometimes assume Farside residents are snobs. "We weren't drawn to this place because it's prestigious. It's because Mark Wakefield was a genius as far as developing a neighborhood that's picturesque. And most people have worked very hard to get here. They weren't born with silver spoons in their mouths."
"This isn't the lifestyles of the rich and famous," echoes resident Susan Brown. "Everyone I know works really hard. . . . It's just a neighborhood of people who have made it to the next step, I
Ms. Brown and her husband, Hollis, made a significant "next step" moving from their 4,000-square-foot home in Hobbit's Glen -- one of Columbia's more prestigious neighborhoods -- to their 10,000-square-foot Colonial in Farside.
Still the Browns, who own four Century 21 offices in the area, say nice neighbors and stability are the top selling points of Farside, not the size of the houses.
"It's just a real nice neighborhood. We sing Christmas carols together, have progressive dinners, summer parties," Ms. Brown says. "It's a wonderful place to live."
Population: 170 (1990 census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 35 minutes
Commuting time to downtown Washington: 50 minutes
Public schools: Clarksville Elementary School, Clarksville Middle School, Glenelg High School
Shopping: The Harper's Farm Village Center, with Valu Food supermarket on Harper's Farm Road; The Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, with Safeway supermarket on U.S. 40.
Nearest mall: The Mall in Columbia, 5 miles southeast
Points of interest: University of Maryland Central Farm, an experimental farm; Franciscan Fathers Novitiate; Centennial Park on Route 108
ZIP code: 21042
Average price of single-family home *: $568,500 (6 sales)
* Average price of homes sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies multiple listing service over the past 2 years