Rows of steel pillars jut like Virginia pines, and blacktop is laid and packed tightly to the south. At the opposite end, a power saw roars as another precision cut is made that within minutes will be transformed into the skin for a family room wall.
Slowly, but unimpeded, Maple Lawn, Maryland will soon convert farm pasture into an expansive luxury residential, commercial and entertainment complex in the image of old-town America.
The development, which when completed will encompass more than 600 acres in Fulton in southeastern Howard County, is expected to welcome its first homeowners in the spring and its first restaurant -- Bluestone -- and office tenant in the summer.
Even Stewart J. Greenebaum, president of the developer, Greenebaum and Rose Associates Inc., is amazed at the progress.
"Six months ago, I was just standing and pointing to the farmland," he says. "Now you see cranes, buildings going up, roads being paved, pillars. It's exciting after all these years of planning. And it's coming together so rapidly and so much better than we could have imagined."
Maple Lawn will include 1,100 homes -- townhouses and detached units -- 1 million square feet of commercial office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space, an Embassy Suites hotel, a community center, a swimming pool, tennis courts and 78 acres of parks, open space, playing fields and walking and bicycle paths.
Greenebaum intends to add a retirement village to satisfy the county's requirement to provide affordable housing.
Townhouse prices begin at $550,000, and those for detached homes push seven figures. Having the money, though, isn't a guarantee of buying at Maple Lawn.
Demand is so great, Greenebaum says, that homes are being sold by lottery. A prospective buyer signs a contract, puts down a $1,000 deposit and hopes his name is pulled in a drawing.
Simpler way of life
Greenebaum thinks Maple Lawn will prove appealing not for its opulence -- though there will be no shortage of that -- but for its design.
Think of it as a contemporary planner's vision of what towns were like in the past: spacious, fenceless homes close together and closer to the street; driveways and garages hidden from view; schools and other necessities such as barbershops, cafes, laundry services, grocery stores and bookstores all a short walk away; office and retail buildings that seem to come from Life with Father; and a community complex and park network that draws residents together, as downtown parks did decades ago.
"The whole idea with Maple Lawn is that we dethrone the automobile and it becomes pedestrian-oriented," says Michael I. Greenebaum, vice president of the company and Stewart Greenebaum's son. "A lifestyle change is what we're offering."
His father is a walking almanac on the need for a lifestyle change: "According to the Census, in Howard County 82 percent of the people drive alone, and for an average of 30 minutes each way," Stewart Greenebaum says.
"The way you cut down on the overcrowding of the roads is through conservation. If you can get people on the roads for less time, that's what unclogs the roads."
He projects that up to 30 percent of the residents will also work at Maple Lawn.
For a company that has built 10 subdivisions and far more commercial and retail developments, Greenebaum and Rose executives thought they were doing well.
"We have developed over 10,000 residential lots in Maryland, and we've won every award you can think of," Greenebaum says. "But all of a sudden, I started reading articles that said we've been doing it wrong all this time."
He rejected the notion for about six months, until another company executive, Charles O'Donovan, insisted on showing him Kentlands, a large development in Gaithersburg.
Greenebaum says he became an advocate of less sprawl and more conservation.
He borrowed ideas from Kentlands and invites others to borrow from Maple Lawn.
"Our hope is that others will copy and maybe even do better," he says, "because this is the way to go."
The planning for the development began in the mid-1990s, but Greenebaum still has trouble sometimes believing that Maple Lawn is more than a paper dream.
"You spend all this time on humdrum things like financing, bidding contracts, zoning issues and people taking pot shots at you for God knows what reasons, and all of a sudden it's coming together," he says. "It's exciting."