When Guy Guzzone and his wife, Pam, moved three years ago to Kings Contrivance, a village in Columbia, he wasn't sure how they'd adapt to the "Columbia lifestyle."
They had moved from Parkville in Baltimore County -- "a much more traditional community" -- so Mr. Guzzone could take a job in county government that required him to live in the planned new town.
The Guzzones decided to rent an apartment instead of buying so they could keep their options open, just in case Columbia's cul-de-sacs and pathways, cluster mailboxes and interfaith centers didn't appeal to them.
"We weren't sure we wanted a life here," says Mr. Guzzone. "We didn't want to commit right away."
But 18 months later, the couple was sold enough on Kings Contrivance and Columbia that they bought a single-family home, even though Mr. Guzzone no longer held the job that required him to live there.
"It took a little getting used to, I'll admit. Parkville was definitely more traditional," he says of his transition. "But we found walking in the village convenient and enjoyable. There's a little stream down there, by one of the pathways, and my son loves to throw stones there. And there's a big playground area nearby. Everything is really convenient."
Six months ago, Mr. Guzzone accepted an open position on the community's 10-member village board, which meets once monthly to discuss issues and work on residents' problems. "I felt we had been here a couple years, and I wanted to get more involved," he explains. "All in all, we've been pretty satisfied with Columbia."
The brainchild of James W. Rouse, former chairman of the Rouse Co., the new town of Columbia sits on more than 15,000 acres in Howard County. Almost 35 years ago, Mr. Rouse started buying up farmland in the mostly rural county to pursue his dream of building a better "city" in the suburbs -- a city that would include a wide range of housing options, services, jobs, schools and recreational outlets, but avoid the urban sprawl, pollution, crime and other ills associated with existing urban centers.
The town was divided into nine "villages" located around a "town center," which also has a village board to represent its 1,300 residents and includes The Mall in Columbia and the town's commercial and business hub. Wilde Lake, Columbia's first village, opened in 1967, the official birth year of the town of 86,000.
Sense of community
Each village includes a number of "neighborhoods," designed to foster a sense of community. Residents of Kings Contrivance say their three neighborhood pools, 23 tot lots and miles of walking paths help bring people together. With the Amherst House meeting center and the village shopping center, which features a half-dozen restaurants and about 20 retail stores, residents have plenty of things to do and opportunities to meet each other, they say.
As the eighth village built by Howard Research Development Corp., a Rouse Co. subsidiary and the town's developer, Kings Contrivance has struggled to create its own identity.
Neither the newest nor the oldest, the largest nor the smallest, Kings Contrivance is not near the town center, doesn't boast a man-made lake or large sports center and doesn't have its own interfaith religious center.
The most unique features of the community of almost 11,000 may be its location and open space -- as Columbia's southern-most village, Kings Contrivance is a mecca for Columbians who commute to Washington. It has 720 acres of permanent open space, more than any other village, with the possible exception of River Hill, which is still being developed.
Kings Contrivance is also the only village with two rivers and two highways running through it, the only village with a neighborhood named after a woman (Dickinson, as in Emily) and the only village named after a restaurant.
"That's right," says Anne Dodd, who has served as village manager for the past 16 years. "The village was named after Kings Contrivance Restaurant."
The restaurant, located in the boyhood home of Howard County's James Macgill, former chief judge of the Circuit Court, probably attracts more non-Columbians to the village than anything else. The French cuisine and elegant ambience of the restaurant is well-known, residents say. What's less well-known is the history behind the name.
"Contrivance," which means "an ingenious scheme," comes from the original land grant name from one of the Lords of Baltimore and "Kings" comes from the restaurant's original owner, Kingdon Gould, a former U.S. ambassador who lives on an estate off nearby Murray Road.
Named after restaurant
Pam Mack, vice president of community relations for the Columbia Association and one of Kings Contrivance's first residents, says that history prompted Columbia's developers to
use the restaurant's name for the village. "I like to say the village wasn't named after a restaurant; it was named after the history behind it," she explains.
Ms. Mack says in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many Columbians from older villages -- such as Oakland Mills and Long Reach -- began moving into Kings Contrivance.
"I think a lot of people wanted to stay in Columbia. They liked the services and the convenience. And Kings was brand new, so it attracted a lot of people," she says.
Kings Contrivance shares a number of Columbia-like features with its fellow villages, such as the centrally located village center, with its mix of retail shops and services. Each of the village's three neighborhoods has a pool and multiple tot lots.
The village's two larger neighborhoods -- Dickinson and Huntington -- include a range of housing options, with rental apartments, condominiums, townhouses and single-family detached homes. Every apartment complex has a percentage of units -- generally 20 percent -- put aside for low-income residents, says Ms. Dodd.
The mixed housing concept, to allow people of all socio-economic levels to live nearby, was an important concept for Mr. Rouse, residents say.
Barbara Seely, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty who lives in Dickinson, says Kings Contrivance includes condominiums priced from $80,000 to $120,000, townhouses from $110,000 to $160,000 and single-family homes running anywhere from $150,000 to $500,000.
Housing styles vary from ultra-modern, custom-made contemporaries to traditional Williamsburg-style Colonials. Lots in Columbia are generally small -- most single-family homes are on quarter-acre parcels.
"People looking for a sense of community and lots of things to do often choose to live here," says Ms. Seely, who has lived in Kings Contrivance for 12 years.
Population: 10,909 (Howard Research Development Corp. report for 1995)
Commuting time to Baltimore: 30 minutes
Commuting time to Washington: 30 minutes
Public schools: Atholton, Bollman Bridge and Guilford Elementary, Patuxent Valley and Clarksville Middle, Hammond High
Shopping: Kings Contrivance Village Center, with Valu Food, High's, CVS pharmacy, dry cleaners, banks, flower shop, hair salon, jewelers, six restuarants and other shops and office space; Atholton Shopping Center, with Columbia Groceries & Deli, a post office and other services
Nearest mall: The Mall in Columbia, 4 miles north.
Points of Interest: 720 acres of open space with numerous parks and tot lots; the Amherst House, community center with meeting rooms, information referral and community services; King's Contrivance Restaurant; the Savage Mill, 2 miles southeast, a restored mill with a variety of shops, artists studios and antiques stores; Johns Hopkins University Applied Phsycis Lab, 2 miles ,, west; Merriweather Post Pavilion, 4 miles north.
ZIP code: 21046
* Average price for single-family home*: $178,260 (based on 127 sales)
* Average price for homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service for the past 12 months.