Worman's Mill offers a slice of Americana

November 11, 1990|By Audrey Haar

Empty-nesters can recapture a slice of old-time Main Street Americana with the comfort of upscale houses -- complete with the prerequisite town square and band stand -- at the new development of Worman's Mill in Frederick.

Located in the northern section of the city and bordering the Monocacy River, the 307-acre site also features a working dairy farm with a herd of cows.

A planned community designed by developer Robert K. Wormald, the development is named after a historic mill dating from the 1700s that once stood on the land.

On the site of what is now known as Houck Farm, Mr. Wormald plans to build 1,497 residential units. They will include 675 houses that face courtyards and share a common area; 100 homes on quarter-acre lots that will face a park or the Monocacy River; 84 homes designed in an early 19th Century-style; and 638 units in condominiums, town houses, a residence hotel and shops on the main square with residence quarters above them.

The development will include a town center the size of two football fields, a touch inspired by turn-of-the-century American towns.

It will also have a combination of commercial and residential units along the main square for arty cottage industries and commercial businesses, such as a combination pharmacy-post office, grocery store and dry cleaner that will be within walking distance of the houses.

Also part of the plan is to keep the 65-acre dairy farm that can eventually be operated by community residents or provide space for individual gardens.

"We're not telling residents that they have to go work on the farm! They can raise cattle or grow a garden if they want to," Mr. Wormald said.

The first houses will be arranged in groups of eight to 12 around a courtyard. Ranging in size from 1,250 to 2,700 square feet, the courtyard houses have base prices that start at $127,000 and reach $255,000.

Buyers can choose from seven models that include three one-story and four two-story styles. In addition, buyers can select either Colonial Williamsburg, New England Farm or English Tudor-style exteriors. There is an extra fee for some of the exteriors.

Interiors of the seven courtyard houses have traditional details such as pillars and chair moldings on the wall. Closet space is abundant and each house has the master bedroom on the first floor. Some of the two-story houses have unenclosed landings on the second floor that create an airy atmosphere.

The first Main Street house has been recently completed. Designed in a late Victorian Queen Anne style, the two-story house has three bedrooms and will sell for $195,000.

For a required monthly fee that ranges from $104 to $130 for the courtyard houses, the community association will take care of all exterior maintenance, including grass cutting, snow removal and gutter cleaning.

Ten years ago when Mr. Wormald bought the land, he planned to build a conventional housing development. But a marketing study revealed that he would only sell 50 units a year, and at that rate he would be building for 30 years.

At that point, "I looked for a specific attraction and a broader market," Mr. Wormald said. "I wanted to build a development that would appeal to a retired person, but I didn't want it age-restricted."

"People are tired of traffic, and I wanted to put them in a peaceful turn-of-the-century town," Mr. Wormald said.

His concept is to eliminate the hustle and bustle of modern living, take away dependence on the automobile, and create an environmentwhere shop owners are also community residents and are part of the community.

Much of the community planning was inspired by David Wolfe, a consumer behavior consultant based in Reston, Va., who recommended gearing the development to retirees and keeping the dairy farm as an additional element.

In addition to retirees, Mr. Wormald said the courtyard houses have also been popular with single people and young couples without children. He said that is because the courtyard houses share common land areas and don't have play areas for children.

The Main Street houses and individual houses on larger lots will be more suitable for families, Mr. Wormald said.

Fifty-five houses are built, 35 have been sold and 20 homes are occupied. Most of the buyers have come from Montgomery County, Washington and Frederick.

Mr. Wormald said he is planning to start marketing the homes in the Baltimore area this month. He anticipates that the houses will appeal to people who want a nicer home, but do not need a larger home.

"They don't want lots of bedrooms and baths. We think we offer what they are looking for," Mr. Wormald said.

He admits that sales have been slower recently because of the softening housing market. "Our big problem is that our market does not have to move. I have hundreds of people who want to wait until they can get full value for their houses," Mr. Wormald said.

"I own the property free and clear, and we can weather the storm," he said.

James Schmersahl, city planning director for Frederick, said the city annexed the Worman's Mill site in 1986 from the county. He said there was no major community opposition to the project. "There was hardly anyone out there when he [Mr. Wormald] made the proposal," Mr. Schmersahl laughed.

Mr. Schmersahl pointed out that the developer restored an old farm house on the property, and has been sensitive to the historic nature of the land.

Historical records show that on the land are ruins of what is known as the Mill Pond House. The house and mill were built around 1746, and the house was of a Maryland-German Hanover-Medieval style.

It is also said that in September 1862, a portion of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army camped there during the Civil War.

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