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Plans proceeding for community of up to 1,400 homes Owners of 550 acres in Arundel unfazed by soft market; 'Area is really prospering'; Construction of roads, Dorchester utilities could begin next year


The owners of 550 acres of undeveloped land in northwest Anne Arundel County are proceeding with a plan to build as many as 1,400 residences, despite the continued softness of the area's housing market.

As part of the planned Dorchester community project, the Washington-based owners of the property have contracted to sell the land to a partnership formed by Driggs Corp. owner John Driggs. Although neither side would reveal a purchase price, the land is valued at roughly $25 million, based on comparable land sales.

If Dorchester receives necessary county approvals in the coming weeks as expected, Mr. Driggs, one of the state's most prolific road contractors and excavators -- his company has worked on Interstate 495 and the Washington Metro system -- could begin installing an estimated $15 million worth of roads, sewer and water lines early next year.

"We selected Mr. Driggs because he has integrity, and because he finishes the jobs he starts," said Mike Caruthers, president of Somerset Construction Co. and a member of the Dorchester ownership group, which also includes members of the Greenberg and Revitz families.

"From a location point of view, it's an excellent property, and it's largely wooded with some interesting terrain features," said Charles E. Stuart, a development manager working with Mr. Driggs. "And at a time when many other housing markets have not rebounded, Dorchester is one of the premier centers of growth. The area is really prospering."

Although the Greenberg and Revitz families have planned to develop Dorchester since buying the land in the early 1960s, they never intended to start the project's residential component first.

Nearly 10 years ago -- when the local commercial real estate market hit a fevered pitch -- Dorchester's owners had teamed up with Trammell Crow Co. to develop the project's commercial and industrial component, comprising 400 acres.

But when the local market crashed in 1990, the Dallas-based developer was forced to abandon the estimated $120 million project, planned to contain 1.8 million square feet of office, research and development and industrial buildings.

With Trammell Crow out of the picture and the industrial market rebounding, Dorchester's owners are resurrecting the project's commercial component.

"We still believe we have one of the best, if not the best, sites for industrial development," Mr. Caruthers said. "And while the Baltimore-Washington corridor is not the office market that it used to be, it's still exciting for industrial projects."

Under an updated, yet tentative residential development plan filed with the county last week, the Dorchester group plans to build 264 single-family detached homes and 542 townhomes as part of the project's first phase.

"We have a plan that could be approved within the next few weeks, provided they addressed all the issues that various county departments raised," said Mimi Kelly, a planning administrator in Anne Arundel's planning department.

"They've been very cooperative to work with thus far."

Roughly half of the 250 acres slated for initial development will remain untouched. The development team also intends to provide amenities such as a swimming pool and clubhouse to enhance the project.

A second phase could add 625 more homes. In all, the residential component will take about 12 years to complete, Mr. Caruthers said.

Mr. Stuart said that several area homebuilders are anxious to construct in Dorchester, but new homes probably won't be ready for occupancy until 1997.

Dorchester will also receive a boost when a planned extension of Route 100 in Anne Arundel is completed sometime later this decade. The property, about three miles from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, will be bounded by the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the extended Route 100.

Eventually, the $225 million Route 100 project will connect Interstate 97 in the middle of Anne Arundel with Interstate 95 as a western boundary, in Howard County.

"That will enhance the project immeasurably," Mr. Stuart said.

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