Robert Wormald admits he decided to do it for the money.
In the mid-1980s, when he began planning the Worman's Mill community in Frederick, he had never heard of neo-traditional small-town development.
But when a market study for a 1,497-unit, 307-acre property showed he would probably sell only 50 homes a year built as a conventional subdivision, and would therefore take 30 years to complete, he decided he'd have to do something different to attract buyers.
That something different has earned him industry accolades and made his community a model for the way development can be. In September, Worman's Mill was the largest planned community to receive Maryland's annual Smart Growth award, which recognizes compact development that conserves natural resources and utilizes existing infrastructure.
Though sales were slower than Wormald would have liked in the early years of the community, during the recession of the early 1990s, the community's growth has taken on velocity, with 140 homes sold last year. With a base price for a condominium topping out at $339,900, Worman's Mill is finally paying off. So far, 500 single-family homes, townhouses, duplexes and condominiums have been built, with all but 50 bought.
Wormald will begin selling homes in the second section of the community, Mill Island, this summer. Models are to open in the fall.
The design for the community was inspired by European villages with architecture reflective of historic downtown Frederick.
The homes sit on smaller lots than in conventional subdivisions. Most of the single-family lots average about one-ninth of an acre. Though they are close together, the homes differ widely in appearance with facades in Tudor-style, stone, brick or vinyl siding. Turrets, designer windows and sun rooms help to make each unique.
"Pocket parks" of community land are arranged among the homes to add green space.
"It helps to create the feeling of open space," Wormald said. "I like to say the way you do this kind of planning is 'think green.' You need to minimize the pavement and concrete."
The impact of automobiles is reduced throughout the community. The townhouses have garages that are reached through rear alleys. Paths weave through the community and sidewalks line most streets.
On a pleasant morning last month, Dawn Robinson, 60, who owns a townhouse in the community, pushed her 2-year-old grandson, Patrick, in a stroller on the sidewalk around the park-like town square.
The size of two football fields, the square includes a bandstand and will eventually be surrounded by a bank, four or five upscale restaurants, an inn and almost 50 "specialty" shops with upstairs residences for proprietors. Parking will be hidden behind the shops.
"We are going away from the strip malls that are so common in this world and creating an environment that is rich in architectural detail and charm and also rich in landscaping," said Ken Wormald, 28, Robert Wormald's youngest son and director of marketing.
"This is a reaction to suburban sprawl," he said. "It's thinking about the way people want to live. It is a return to community."
Robinson said she looks forward to the opening of the commercial section, which will be completed in about four years.
"The way Frederick is getting, it will be nice to have more things right here so we don't have to get into the traffic mess," she said.
Frederick's growth has fueled the success of Worman's Mill. Though Wormald said the community at first attracted mostly people who lived or worked in Montgomery County and Washington, the biggest draw recently has been from the local area. Ken Wormald estimates that about 30 percent of working residents commute to the Washington area and 10 percent commute to Baltimore.
The property, bordering the Monocacy River north of downtown, was annexed by the city in 1986. The community takes its name not from the Wormalds, but from a historic mill dating from the 1700s that stood on the property.
The community is one of the most upscale in the area, says Tom Pos, an agent for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. The first residents moved into their homes in 1989.
"Most people who buy there really like to stay there," Pos said.
The luxury condominiums start at $109,900 for an 863-square-foot one-bedroom, one-bath floor plan. The largest condominium, the Astoria, is 2,900 square feet with three bedrooms and three and one-half baths. At a base price of $339,900, it is the most expensive home in the community.
Robert Wormald admits the unit is "kind of a stretch for Frederick." But, he said, he added four of the larger floor plans to the second "Park Place" condominium building because of unexpected demand for more spacious luxury units. The second building, which will have 58 condominiums, should be completed in July 2001. Fifteen of the first Park Place building's 70 units remain to be sold.
"Our whole community is a little more upscale from what other builders are doing in Frederick," Wormald said. "Other builders look at Frederick as an entry-level commuting community."
The single-family homes have base prices of $185,000 to $252,000. One section, the Courtyard homes, which is clustered around brick cul-de-sacs, includes community-provided home exterior and lawn maintenance as well as trash pickup from the front door. Like the condominiums, the Courtyard homes have attracted many retirees or empty-nesters. Wormald estimates that this segment accounts for about 40 percent of the community's residents.
The townhouses range from $139,000 to $175,900. The brick Village Green Townhomes are designed to look like the townhouses of Georgetown or Annapolis.
Soon, the community will feature a clubhouse with a library, card room, exercise room, two full-sized pools and a children's pool, two tennis courts, a basketball court and a putting green. Tuscarora Stream Valley Park separates the two sections of the community. Construction of the clubhouse, which overlooks the park, will begin next month and should be completed by fall.
But the growth of Worman's Mill has not been without setbacks.
The first problems arose in getting local approval for the community's nontraditional layout. The entrance to the Courtyard homes' brick cul-de-sacs is narrower than conventional roads. This presented a problem because city codes require that roads be wide enough to accommodate trash trucks and utility vehicles.
"The way codes are written favors suburban sprawl," Ken Wormald said.
Another blow came to the community in 1993 when the antique barn on the property went up in flames. The most idealistic of the community's features, the 65-acre dairy farm previously on the property was to be preserved for use by residents.
Harvey Alter, 67, an adjunct professor of environmental management at University of Maryland, University College, said the country setting of Frederick is one of the reasons he and his wife moved to Worman's Mill from Rockville.
"You can walk. It is friendly. It is diverse, in appearance and people, most importantly," he said. "You can see where the Earth meets the sky. You leave Worman's Mill and you're in cornfields in less than half a mile," he said.