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Dreams Come True in Humble Odenton


The Dream Homes have come to Odenton, which says something about what's happening to this western Anne Arundel County town.

Odenton has always been a community of tangibles and unretouched reality, not the stuff of dreams.

Army tanks, camouflage, railroads -- that's the Odenton we've known. Modest homes. A gritty commercial strip. A place where middle-class people work and raise families and take baths in ordinary tubs.

Ordinary tubs don't exist in the Dream Homes.

The Dream Homes are part of Piney Orchard, the huge planned && unit development which is part of the new Odenton, which is supposed to connect with the old Odenton one of these days. There are five of the homes so far, tucked onto Summer Shade Drive just off Strawberry Lake Way, just a mile or two from the Boomtown strip.

It might as well be a hundred miles.

Last year, the Homebuilders Association of Maryland sponsored its first "Dream Homes" showcase in northwestern Baltimore County, a few miles down the road from millionaire horse country. This year, it chose Odenton.

"Our planned community atmosphere, open spaces, natural environment and amenities make Piney Orchard the ideal place to host an event for 100,000 people," says the glossy Dream Homes '95 brochure. "Dream Homes, it appears, was simply destined to come to Piney Orchard."

The houses are neither as immense, grandiose nor as expensive as last year's Dream Homes, which ranged to nearly $800,000. These all average around $350,000. All the same, they are bound to make most of us "ooh" and "ahh" and wish we were going home to 16-foot living room ceilings, bedrooms with wet bars and three-sided fireplaces and backyards where classical music wafts from speakers hidden within faux rocks.

You should visit Dream Homes before the show ends Sept. 24. It's fun, if you don't let yourself get too depressed at how plebeian your nice little two-story Cape Cod looks by comparison. The houses are all professionally decorated and landscaped, and you can actually get some good ideas for your own humble abode.

Even if your house doesn't have a winding staircase and two-story-high living room windows like the "Celestial Manor," it could probably benefit from a coordinated color scheme like the one interior designer Andrea Loran used here.

Somehow, she managed to tie the whole house together with yellow without making it so yellow that you can't stand it. And even without the wet bar and cavern-sized closets, with the right wallpaper and furnishings you could create a reasonable facsimile of her beautiful "garden trellis" bedroom.

Of course, most of the really neat stuff we can only, well, dream about.

The master bedroom suite with the exercise room with the authentic exercise floor and mirrors on all the walls, so you can watch yourself from any direction.

Inlaid marble foyer floors.

Bathrooms bigger than my kitchen, with tubs the Queen Mary could sail and toilets you have to search for.

The best of this bunch looks like a grotto, covered with moss-green tile, with a tub that seems to float in the trees and a recessed domed ceiling strewn with hand-painted roses.

Dream Home basements are pretty amazing, too. Whoops, I'm not supposed to call them basements. "Basements don't exist any more," Ms. Loran informs me.

They're "lower levels."

No old bicycles and washing machines down here. Now, you'll find home entertainment centers, full bars and special crab feast areas outfitted with plank floors and waterfront murals painted on the walls.

Nobody expects houses like this ever to make up more than a small enclave in Odenton. Piney Orchard has 25 lots set aside for dream homes, and that number could shrink depending on how these Dream Homes sell.

Still, the Celestial Manor and its neighbors represent a sea change in Odenton's image. They take Odenton one step further from gritty Army post and closer to exciting, thriving, upscale-kinda-town.

The problem is, there are an awful lot of steps left to go. Nearly 30 years after the county-zoned Odenton as a "town center," the Odenton Town Center still doesn't exist. And despite that billboard at Routes 32 and 175 proclaiming, "Odenton Town Center: Coming '95," it's not coming this year. It probably won't come for many years.

The businessman who's building the new commercial center has run into delays because one-third of the town center turns out to be wetlands. The Boomtown strip looks pretty much as it always has.

The Odenton Town Center Growth Management Plan, which is supposed to show how to tie Piney Orchard and its Dream Homes together with historic Odenton, a rejuvenated Boomtown, the new town center and two other big new developments, now sits in the hands of the Anne Arundel County Council. And even after the plan is approved, it will take a long time and a lot of money to carry it out.

The Dream Homes are here. But the new Odenton -- a cohesive community of Army folks and government workers, of young families and old, of people with basements and people with "lower levels" -- remains a dream.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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