A new, exclusive enclave is being carved out of the woods of Howard County, shielded by a golf course and a 1,000-acre nature preserve. It is drawing national attention and will set the standard for turn-of-the-century glitz in solidly middle-class Columbia.
The Estates at Forest Glen is a relatively small subdivision by Columbia standards. Only 30 building lots will be sold. But many of the homes will be priced well over $1 million. Contracts on five homes that are either under construction or close to beginning are averaging around $900,000, according to Louis Siegel, an executive of Siegel Homes, builder of the luxury subdivision.
"A house in Forest Glen will range from the high 600s to the moon, depending on what you're building," Mr. Siegel said.
Most of the interest in Forest Glen has been generated by the one home that has been finished in the neighborhood by Siegel (( Homes, the custom building subsidiary of the Siegel Organization of Owings Mills. This $1.4 million home was built not simply as a model for prospective buyers of Forest Glen real estate but as an East Coast show home for Masco, one of the leading manufacturers of building, home improvement and home furnishings products.
Some 5,000 visitors have paid as much as $14 apiece to tour the lavishly decorated, state-of-the-art 8,500-square-foot mansion since it opened to public view five weeks ago. Tours for the public will end next weekend.
"People have come from Utah, Philadelphia, Boston, South Carolina, Chicago, New York to get design ideas and find out what not to do," Mr. Siegel said. "We have people coming back three and four times."
The home will be featured nationally in several specialty publications of Better Homes and Gardens. A virtual reality software tour of the residence is being developed by Apple Computer, according to Mr. Siegel.
The Siegel Organization already has a full-price offer for the show home, according to Mr. Siegel, son of the man who founded the Siegel Organization more than 40 years ago, Herbert Siegel.
But as the Masco show ends, the marketing of Forest Glen will continue for perhaps five more years, the time Louis Siegel says it will probably take to build the subdivision. The schedule calls for construction of six homes a year. "We're ahead of our timetable," Mr. Siegel says. "We don't want to go much faster."
For the Rouse Co., the enclave is unique. While there have been high-end neighborhoods built in Columbia, there hasn't been such a concentration of large-lot, luxury homes in one location, said Alton Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., developer of the nearly 3-decade-old planned community of approximately 80,000 residents.
"It's Columbia's answer to the three-acre subdivisions in Western Howard County," said David Forester, another Rouse executive.
Joseph Grasso, the head of Toledo-based Scholz Design, whose plans were used to build the Masco show home, says the community will have an "Old Money" style, a Classical Revival motif that will make the residences look a century old when buyers move in.
"From 1880 to 1930, a lot of great homes were done by great architects, and we're trying to get back to that kind of design," Mr. Grasso said.
A major component of the subdivision's appeal, those involved in the project say, is its location inside the northern edge of Columbia. As the Baltimore and Washington regions have developed, it has become very difficult to find sprawling parcels suited for luxury homes with access to both public water and sewer lines.
"Forest Glen is the only subdivision from Ellicott City to Georgia Avenue [Route 97] with one-plus acre lots that have public utilities," Mr. Siegel said. Much of the large custom-home development has moved into rural areas "because all the good stuff close in is gone," he said.
Located on the fringe of Columbia's Village of Harpers Choice, the Forest Glen community will have a secluded feel. On the south and east, it is bounded by the 18-hole Hobbits Glen golf course. To the west is the 1,000-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. One winding, 18-foot-wide road snakes through the community off Route 108. That's the only way in or out.
Lots range between 1.1 and 2.3 acres and most of the woods will be preserved, leaving many of the homes barely visible from the road.
Rouse officials say the project grew out of their continuing effort to match their inventory of undeveloped parcels with the trends in the marketplace and the needs of Columbia.
"Each year we look at the range of product lines we're able to offer consumers," Mr. Scavo said. "We have not done a large-lot customer area in many years."
As a result, some longtime residents of Columbia who had
achieved substantial financial success were leaving because they had to build the house of their dreams elsewhere, Mr. Scavo said.
"This piece of property had gotten water and sewer it had one point of ingress and egress," because of the surrounding golf course and nature preserve, he said. "And it was also the scale that we felt was proportionate to the depth of the market. It seemed a natural fit."
The easier course would have been to develop a higher-density subdivision, Mr. Scavo said. "We could have easily put two to the acre. We have a great track record of $300,000-to-$400,000 homes." And in fact, the norm for new detached housing in Columbia's villages is a base price around $300,000. In the Hobbits Glen neighborhood, prices for some new homes exceed $400,000. And at Hobbits North and Woodlot, some homes are selling for more than $500,000, according to the Legg Mason Realty Group.
But a subdivision even in the upper end of these price ranges would still force a segment of the market to "leave Columbia to achieve their housing objectives," Mr. Scavo said. "Every so often, it's important for Columbia to have this type of lot."
Rouse's selection of the Siegel Organization was motivated by a desire to choose a reliable, financially strong company with a proven track record of building high-end custom homes and a variety of skills beyond the nailing of 2-by-4s and the installation of floor joists, according to Mr. Scavo and others close to the project.
Besides being licensed by Scholz to use its designs, Siegel has computerized its processes to ensure that blueprints fit each site, says Louis Siegel, who runs the custom home subsidiary with his brother, Andrew.
"They have done it for some number of years, and have been successful," Mr. Scavo noted.
"One of the things we look for is a builder who has experience, reputation and staying power," he said.
Mr. Grasso of Scholz observed that the attrition rate among homebuilders is high.
"So many builders are in and out of the business, and people are very nervous, especially when they have a custom home builder, as to what builder they're getting," he said. "Siegel is a long-term family organization."
As planning for the subdivision got under way, the Siegel Organization began discussing with Masco a proposal to build the first home as a promotional show home. Masco typically would build such homes at cities that are sites of major builder trade shows, events such as the National Association of Home Builders convention.
"We said, 'Why don't you have one of these on the East Cost, in the northeast corridor?' " Louis Siegel said.
Masco didn't normally build exotic, lavishly decorated show homes in subdivisions. But Columbia's strategic location intrigued the conglomerate. The combination of Baltimore and Washington is one of the biggest housing markets in the country. And, as Masco spokesman Samuel Cypert put it, "We look for an opportunity to get as much exposure as possible."
Masco sent representatives to walk the property with Siegel, Scholz and Rouse officials.
"They said this is a home run," Mr. Siegel said.
For his father, Herbert Siegel, Forest Glen may be the crowning achievement of a career that has its roots in a real estate brokerage he opened in 1952 in Baltimore, shortly after his marriage to Phyllis Myerberg, a builder's daughter.
In four decades, Mr. Siegel's companies have built and managed thousands of apartments and condominiums. He has had a hand in many other ventures, large and small. Thirty years ago, as a leader in the Home Builders Association of Maryland, Mr. Siegel pioneered the development of training programs for apartment managers. His stewardship of the HBAM's apartment council was among the activities that won him local Builder of the Year in 1967. A decade ago, he renovated the old Friends School building in Baltimore's Bolton Hill -- vacant for 40 years -- to convert it into apartments. His organization renovated the historic Druid Apartments in Reservoir Hill.
But Forest Glen is among the most challenging projects the Siegel Organization has attempted. "It's a very tough thing to do," remarked Louis Siegel.
A proud father
Recently, as Herbert Siegel walked through the show home and drove the road through the subdivision, over streams crossed by fieldstone bridges, past construction crews grading deep, undulating lots, he was the proud father. His sons have built the custom home business in Baltimore and Howard counties, and they will do the heavy lifting in Forest Glen, managing it to fruition.
"I'm the old man," insisted Mr. Siegel. "I'm their adviser and sometime investor."
It was midmorning on a weekday, yet the narrow road in front of the show home was already chockablock for several hundred yards with parked cars as visitors queued up to walk through it.
Inside, they would be wowed by a two-toned cherrywood kitchen, the black granite floors with brass inlays, the two-story first floor vaulted cherry-paneled library with 10-foot-high built-in bookcases, a home theater featuring a 101-inch screen, a gym with adjacent bath, a grand ballroom and an elevator, the 675-square-foot master suite on the first floor.
Companies from throughout the country have flooded him with pleas to have their products installed in the home, in addition to Masco's brands. Fourteen firms are represented in the home's exterior; four companies supplied cabinets; seven provided doors and windows. A dozen businesses put in flooring and counter tops. The plumbing alone had 15 sources.
"Saturday and Sunday out here we'll get a lot of people," Herbert Siegel said. "Washington. Fairfax. They'll be all over the place. We sold one to a -- I don't want to give you his name -- a football player National Football League."
As he drove he gestured toward the signs marking each subdivided acre or two. The lots that were sold had signs showing renderings of the homes to be built.
Mr. Siegel, who once sold televisions door to door after serving in the Navy during World War II, sells Forest Glen with the fervor that once moved tiny-screened Muntzes.
"Some of these lots are incredible I mean, they look down into valleys and they're just beautiful, beautiful trees," he said. "This is Rouse's premiere community.
"Once you start showing houses in here, it takes off, because people see the community and they want to buy it. Where else are they going to go in Columbia?"
At the Masco show home, he runs into some friends who were getting ready to do the tour.
"I promise you'll like it," he assures them with a confident wave. "You won't be disappointed."
The Masco show home is open Tuesday through Sunday, through Oct. 29, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Net proceeds of ticket sales go to The Columbia Foundation, The Junior League of Baltimore and The Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.