'Country Manor' in Bel Air offers affordable opulence

October 14, 1990|By Elise Armacost

In the "Great Room" of this English Country Manor a pianist plays classical music just beyond a screen of potted plants.

A huge brass chandelier hangs from a vaulted ceiling. Oriental rugs decorate the brick and parquet floors, and bowls of flowers decorate the Queen Anne tables.

Beyond the pianist, light streams through a wall of tall glass windows, beyond which lies a slate terrace crowded with chrysanthemums and a pool that glistens like an aquamarine.

All of this looks like something for the rich. But you're not likely to find any millionaires living in English Country Manor, a new garden condominium complex in Bel Air that happens to be as affordable and opulent.

The prices range from $61,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $98,000 for two bedrooms and a solarium -- "a great value," said Clark P. Turner, a Harford County developer and former president of the Harford chapter of the Maryland Association of Home Builders.

"You won't find many projects like that," Mr. Turner said. "This is of a higher level than other projects in the county."

A grand opening for the first 175-unit section of English Country Manor is scheduled today. Construction on 175 more condominiums is expected to begin next fall.

Located just behind the Harford Mall along U.S. Business 1, English Country Manor is being built by Baltimore developers Frank Bond, William J. Fleischer and Michael Rodgers, who together form Harford Land Development Inc. Partnership

Mr. Bond, 56, is also the founder and former chief executive officer of U.S. Health Inc., which operates the Holiday Spa health club chain.

Though English Country Manor is Mr. Bond's first residential building project, he is not new to the building business. As CEO of U.S. Health, he built health clubs all along the East Coast. And during the past six years, he purchased two run-down Bel Air area apartment complexes, renamed and renovated them and turned them into livable places.

"Once he took them over, we saw a marked improvement," said Carol Deibel, Bel Air's director of planning and community development. "The problems we had been experiencing [lack of maintenance and numerous police calls] evaporated."

Mr. Bond and his partners bought the 32-acre English Country Manor site 2 1/2 years ago. They envisioned an apartment complex for the elderly; Mr. Bond had been successful with apartments, and Bel Air officials wanted more affordable, quality housing for older people.

Later, after studying the housing market, they switched to condominiums and decided against creating a project for the elderly only. But they still wanted to build a development that offered, as Mr. Rodgers put it,"a lifestyle rather than just four walls."

English Country Manor is almost a self-contained community. Access to outsiders is limited by a gatehouse guard, and the project is surrounded by woods, providing a sense of privacy that belies the fact that the Harford Mall is within walking distance.

Waterscapes, flower gardens and park benches are scattered throughout the site. Walkways and jogging trails link the condominium buildings.

The heart of the project is the Manor House, a clubhouse contain

ing the Great Room as well as a private fitness club, a kitchen and wet bar for private parties and an activities room with a large-screen television.

"It's like living in a resort," said Linda G. Leizear, director of the new homes division of O'Conor, Piper and Flynn.

This kind of opulence does have a price: $98 a month in condominium fees.

The condominiums have been designed to resemble English manor houses. No two units are exactly alike.

Each condominium includes a screened-in or glassed-in porch and a brick hearth fireplace. Some come

with cathedral ceilings and whirlpool baths.

Residents are not paying for floor space at English Country Manor. The largest models contain 1,050 square feet of floor space, not counting the porches.

"We're appealing to people who want a change of lifestyle," not a bigger house, Mr. Bond said.

About 70 percent of the 57 contracts that have been signed so far have been with retired people who already had their own homes and are tired of maintaining them, Mr. Bond said. The rest are mostly first-time homebuyers who do not have children.

During the second quarter of 1990, English Country Manor was the fourth fastest-selling condominium complex out of 64 active Baltimore-area condominium projects surveyed by the Legg Mason Realty Group.

The metropolitan area includes Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties.

Planners say they would like to see more well-planned, attractive high-density projects. Developments like English Country Manor take less green space than single-family homes and help reduce traffic if located where residents can walk or use mass transit to get where they need to go.

Some other builders who have tried lifestyle-oriented projects have failed because they could not offer the product at a reasonable price, said Kate Weglein, Legg Mason's project director of housing market profiles.

Mr. Rodgers said he and his partners have been able to keep prices low because they got a good deal on the land, which was considered a difficult site to develop, and because they bought building materials in large quantity.

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