Resort design touched by past Community on Shore will be continuation of St. Michaels

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ST. MICHAELS -- After planning some of the most highly acclaimed new towns in America, architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk have brought their talents to Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The Florida-based designers recently unveiled plans for a $100 million-plus community in St. Michaels, a waterfront area with about 1,300 residents in Talbot County.

Perry Point, which is the community's tentative name, would have 350 to 375 residences, a 30-room inn, corner store, post office, performing arts center, pools, tennis courts and a 3,000-foot-long park along the Miles River on 89 acres.

Unlike many new communities in Maryland, where suburban sprawl is rampant, Perry Point has been designed to look and feel like a continuation of the older sections of town, complete with crooked streets, narrow lanes and closely spaced homes with front porches and picket fences.

In a 90-minute presentation to town residents Tuesday night, Duany said Maryland's Eastern Shore has some of the most charming and picturesque towns in the United States, including St. Michaels, Oxford, Chestertown and Easton.

He said his goal in Talbot County is to learn from what's there and create a community "that looks like St. Michaels."

Duany added that Maryland is one of several states leading a national movement back to traditional town-planning principles that were popular before World War II.

"You are probably the first town in Maryland that, if this goes forward properly, will have undergone this process in a classical way," he told more than 100 area residents who gathered in a local fire hall for the master plan's unveiling. "As a planner, this has been a tremendous opportunity."

On Route 33, St. Michaels is a cozy town full of shops, restaurants and bed-and-breakfast operations that attract weekend visitors from throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

St. Michaels, incorporated in 1804, has become known over the years as "the town that fooled the British." During the War of 1812, its citizens hung lanterns in tall trees north of town, diverting the British cannon attack from the town center.

Second homes on Shore

Perry Point is a project of Midland Cos., a Washington-based development firm. Midland has contracts to buy 72 acres from Perry Cabin Associates, headed by Harry Meyerhoff of Easton, and another 17 acres from Elsie Hunteman of St. Michaels for the project.

North of the Inn at Perry Cabin, part of the Ashley Hotels network, the land is zoned for residential development. It is part of a larger tract that Meyerhoff began developing in the 1980s. He constructed 50 upscale townhouses but did not complete the development.

Midland partners Gary Modjeska and George Valanos said they want to create a community that will appeal to young professionals who work nearby and to others from large metropolitan areas who are seeking a second home on the Eastern Shore.

For generations, Modjeska said, Baltimoreans and Washingtonians have maintained second homes in oceanfront communities such as Ocean City.

Aging baby boomers are looking for a wider range of options for second homes in the mid-Atlantic, he said. He believes St. Michaels is an ideal location because it's on the waterfront, less than a two-hour drive from the metropolitan area and has a small-town feel that many people seek in a weekend getaway.

"We can't re-create St. Michaels, but we can surely emulate its charm and character in new housing," he said.

The houses would range in price from about $200,000 to $450,000 or more. If 350 homes were constructed and sold for an average price of $300,000, the development would have a total value of $105 million. Additional funds would be required to build the inn, store and other nonresidential features.

Gradual building

Modjesta said Midland would like to complete the land acquisitions and receive building permits to begin construction next year. The entire community would be built over 10 to 15 years.

Duany and Plater-Zyberk, who are married and partners in their Miami-based design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., gained international recognition for their design of Seaside, a resort community with several hundred houses in the Florida panhandle.

Seeking an alternative to cookie-cutter, suburban-style development, they began designing Seaside in 1980 to be a walkable town with narrow streets, distinctive houses and other quirks that characterize communities built before cars dictated lifestyles.

Because Seaside is an economic and aesthetic success, they have designed more than 100 "neo-traditional" communities based on old-fashioned town-planning principles and have become leaders of the "New Urbanism" design movement.

Other communities designed by Duany and Plater-Zyberk, who have an office in Gaithersburg, range from the exclusive Windsor community in Florida to a town that Prince Charles is building in Dorset to a neo-traditional mobile home park in Mesa, Ariz.

Six of the projects have been in Maryland, including Kentlands, a "new town" launched 10 years ago in Gaithersburg. Perry Point is the first on Maryland's Eastern Shore and will be overseen by the Gaithersburg office. Graham Landscape Architecture of Annapolis is the landscape architect.

Modjeska said Midland hired Duany and Plater-Zyberk because of their reputation as design leaders and because he believes their approach is right for St. Michaels. He envisions Perry Point as the Seaside of the Eastern Shore.

Modjeska noted that the Perry Point plan taps into a number of features that buyers want in second-home communities, such as proximity to metropolitan areas, sensitivity to the environment and a quaint, "almost Norman Rockwell atmosphere."

The plan was created during a seven-day charrette, or intensive planning session, during which the designers met daily with town residents, local officials and others interested in the project.

"We're trying to design a project in the open, in the presence of those who have the power to decide about it," Duany said.

The designers were questioned about the project's impact on issues such as traffic congestion and property values, and its compliance with wetland measures.

Duany said the team has tried to develop a plan that addresses the concerns, and the development team will continue to work with regulatory agencies on issues from storm-water management to selecting trees and plants.

Project handled 'properly'

He noted that the project must go through the local design-review process before construction can begin, so community residents have time to scrutinize the plans and comment.

Some residents say they are pleased with what they've seen.

"I love it. I think the plan is great," said Robert Hofmaster, a member of the St. Michaels Preservation Coalition and candidate for Talbot County commissioner.

He said he particularly likes the provisions for the waterfront park and public open space. "The whole thing is being approached very sensitively and properly," he said.

Dan Cowee, planning officer for Talbot County, said the project would almost double the population of St. Michaels, which had 1,301 residents in 1990. But he said its impact on St. Michaels may be minimal because the developers envision building gradually -- about 30 to 35 residences a year.

"They're talking about building over a 10- to 15-year period, hTC which easily could stretch to 20 years," Cowee said. "That's all the way to the year 2020 -- a very long time into the future."

The neo-traditional style could be appealing to St. Michaels residents, he said, because settlement in the county was based around small towns.

"I think it could have promise for this area because we've always had a lot of small villages," Cowee said.

"It could be something that would take here, where it might not work in suburban Baltimore."

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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