A decade ago, the ambitious blueprints for Owings Mills New Town were unveiled, proclaiming a smaller, Baltimore County version of Columbia or Reston. It would be an "urban village," with as many as 5,000 homes of diverse price tags on 430 acres, the county's largest residential project.
Today, nearly 1,200 condominiums, apartments, townhomes and upscale detached dwellings have been built in villages along the tree-lined boulevards that serve as the main arteries. The 304-unit apartment complex in New Town has periodically needed a waiting list at a time when many rental properties in the Baltimore region are running vacancy rates of 5 percent to 10 percent.
This year will see another spurt of construction, as many as 270 more condos and townhomes in New Town.
The first dwellings in a new 55-unit townhome village -- Saplin Hill -- are being sold, and, by midyear, two more projects will begin once all the regulatory approvals are obtained -- around 65 townhomes and 150 condos.
A new, 125,000-square-foot shopping center -- one of the first in Baltimore County in years -- opened in the heart of New Town in November, anchored by a Giant supermarket. Construction of an elementary school is scheduled to begin next year.
Tucked between I-795, the Owings Mills Mall and the 1,900-acre Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area, New Town continues to evolve into the self-contained community unveiled on paper in 1986. By the time the last home has been built, perhaps in 2002, the community should have more than 10,000 residents.
The developer, Ahmanson Residential Development -- a California-based subsidiary of one of the country's largest lenders -- will likely not build the 5,000 units that have been authorized by the county.
Given the market demand, a target of 3,500 to 4,000 units is more realistic, according to Jim DeFrancia of Lowe Enterprises Inc., overseer of Ahmanson's real estate investments. But that still makes New Town the largest single residential community developed by Ahmanson, he said.
New Town fits into the 12-year-old Baltimore County development strategy that has designated the 13,000-acre Owings Mills corridor a growth area. Hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment -- schools, utilities and roads -- have been allocated to Owings Mills, transforming it into one of the fastest-growing sections of the Baltimore metropolitan area.
Driven in large part by the emergence of New Town, Owings Mills is now second in new-home sales only to Anne Arundel County's Odenton section, where growth is also fueled by planned communities.
Just minutes from the Baltimore Beltway, New Town has been designed to combine the appeal of a sidewalk-latticed small town with the convenience of a metropolitan location.
"We go into the city a lot," said Bill Smead, president of the Weston community condominium association. "This is convenient to everything."
Real estate agents say that in a difficult market, New Town's location gives it an edge.
"You have a feeling of privacy," said Leonard L. Bernhardt, a real estate agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn. "Yet you're only two or three minutes from the action."
The central organizing principle of the community has been to create a diverse mix of incomes and lifestyles. The range extends from Red Run Apartments, which run from $610 to $915 a month -- and house many future New Town homeowners -- to the upper-end Weston Courtyard Homes, which sell in the high $260s.
"If you don't have $250,000 to spend, and you want to live in New Town, you can live there," said Lois E. Levitt, an agent with Long & Foster.
Two New Town neighborhoods, Five Oaks (townhomes) and Silverbrook Farm (condos), have been completed, in addition to the apartments. Over the past year, builders have been selling homes in eight more "active" neighborhoods, most of which have some unsold parcels remaining.
Condos are being sold in Bozzuto Homes' Silverbrook Wood -- $85,490 to $110,990 -- and Spring Mill, being built by a joint venture that includes Ahmanson. Spring Mill units run from $79,990 to $121,990.
Townhouses are being built in four neighborhoods.
Thomas Builders is building in Persimmon Park for between $109,990 and $122,990; Ryan Homes is selling units in Deertrace for between $110,990 and $113,900; Ryan is also marketing Oakside units for $119,990; and Pulte Home Corp. is building in Sherwood Hill in the $129,990 to $149,000 range. Two builders are selling single-family detached homes. Patriot Homes is building in The Meadows for $176,900 to $231,900. And Weston Associates is building the Weston Courtyard homes -- from $188,900 to $268,000.
Weston is somewhat unusual in that it looks like a single-family detached home neighborhood, but operates like a condominium. The homes have front and back yards, but no side yards. Exterior maintenance and landscaping is taken care of by the community association.
Patsy Roberts has lived in her Sherwood Hill townhome more than a year, and she finds it convenient to her job and to Towson, where she grew up.
"I wanted to be in Baltimore County," said Ms. Roberts, who works in sales. She finds the roads of New Town safe for in-line skating and walking dogs.
Homeowners in New Town have access to the sports center, with three swimming pools, tennis courts and a playground. The center is located across Middle Mill Drive from the shopping center. Another sports center is planned for the western edge of the community, in the Upper Mill Drive section where much of the future construction is anticipated.
The opening of the New Town Village Center in November meant that residents could walk to stores and restaurants, instead of having to drive to Reisterstown and Liberty roads. Construction of the $14 million facility, built by Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust, began in April. The center has leased to McDonald's, Blockbuster Video, Starbucks Coffee, Chesapeake Bagels, Owings Mills Athletic Club, Motophoto, Liberatore's Restaurant, Parcel Plus and other stores. Kinder-Care is building its facility and plans to open in the spring.
To create a sense of "instant community" in a new development, an array of activities have been established. A spring flea market has drawn dozens of vendors and hundreds of buyers in recent years. The New Town Farmers Market is open every Tuesday from late June to early October at the visitors center. A Founders' Day block party has been held for several years. Last summer's, held in 104-degree heat, drew 500 residents, according to Carmen E. Gilmore, director of marketing and community relations for New Town.
A community garden is located at the corner of New Town Boulevard and Middle Mill Drive, and has proven so popular that plots are snapped up quickly.
Milt Kelman, a Weston resident, has organized the garden for the past three years. Mr. Kelman, one of the first residents of Weston, said the first year of gardening was difficult because of a scarcity of topsoil, but has improved significantly. Retired from the Social Security Administration, Mr. Kelman tends some 40 rosebushes in his own back yard.
At 75, he still works as a certified public accountant. Last summer, he, Mr. Smead, and others put on a block party for their neighborhood.
"There's lots of nice people here," Mr. Kelman said. "We like each other."
Alex Guggenheim and his wife moved four years ago to a condominium in Spring Mill, where he is treasurer of the condo association. "I liked it enough to suggest it to my mother-in-law and to my daughter," said Mr. Guggenheim, and they followed his advice, buying condos in Spring Mill. "There's three generations here," he said, just like in many small towns.
Population: 2,700 residents
Commuting time to downtime Baltimore: 25 minutes by car; 30 minutes by Metro
Commuting time to Washington: 45 minutes by car to the Capital Beltway
Public schools: Hernwood Elementary School, Deer Park Middle School, Owings Mill High (New Town Elementary scheduled to open in 1998, followed by New Town Middle School.)
Shopping: New Town Village Shopping Center, St. Thomas Shopping Center, Cherry Vale Shopping Center, Chartley Shopping Center, Reisterstown Shopping Center.
Nearest mall: Owings Mills Mall
Points of Interest: Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area, Liberty Reservoir, McDonough Pump House, St. Thomas' Church.
Zip Code: 21117
Average price of homes: Single-family detached, $222,240, townhouse, $131,470; condominiums, $103,670*
*Based on 229 sales in 1995, New Town Development Corp.