KENT NARROWS -- When Oyster Cove Limited Partnership started construction on its waterfront community at the Kent Narrows in the mid-'80s, it billed itself as "a pearl on the Shore."
Pastel-blue condominiums reflected in a pool of still water came with boat slips at your doorstep, swimming pool, lighted tennis courts, and a picturesque, cabana-style clubhouse -- everything you needed to enjoy a leisurely weekend in the country.
But outside this opulent property with its promise of around-the-clock security, would-be buyers found a whole different world. Just down the road at the Kent Narrows were dozens of shanties -- shed-like structures which housed oyster shuckers working for nearby shellfish packinghouses, and their families. Oyster Cove was a pearl in the midst of squalor.
A foreclosure sale held in late October confirmed what some local people had suspected all along: Oyster Cove, with its price tags of up to $269,000 on a condominium and $350,000 for a town house, was priced too high for a watermen's community like Kent Narrows.
"If you have that much money, why not buy down at Ocean City?" asked Queen Anne's County planner Margaret Kaii. "It's high density in an area that's pretty rural. A lot of residential development on Kent Island missed the market . . . it was priced too steep," believes Ms. Kaii.
At the Oct. 27th sale, Second National Bank, which holds the mortgage, sold off 15 units and seven slips, but that still left the bank holding the keys to another 15 condos, two town houses, additional slips and plans and permits for further development on the property.
As a result of the foreclosure sale, the prices on the remaining units are far less expensive. Buyers can save up to $50,000 before they even start to haggle over the price tag. Condominiums are priced between $142,000 and $189,000, but salespeople will readily tell buyers they can barter that price down another five to seven percent.
The boat slips are sold separately for $25,000 and $35,000, but again, prices are negotiable.
Kent Narrows, which is 20 minutes from Annapolis or 40 minutes from the Baltimore and Washington beltways, is ideal for people looking to get away from Western Shore congestion, while staying in driving distance to Baltimore/Washington social life.
More important to big yacht owners, who developers obviously targeted when they put in 40- and 60-foot slips, is the residential development's location on a cove off Kent Narrows.
South of the Narrows are the protected waters of Eastern Bay and the Miles and Wye rivers. A few miles north are the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
Up until recently, however, Kent Narrows was a nightmare for yachters, but the opening of a higher bridge over the Narrows earlier this
fall means far less trouble navigating through the Narrows, particularly on busy summer weekends when the draw span used to stay down all morning or all afternoon to accommodate ocean-bound traffic.
While the old draw span will stay in use for local vehicles and pedestrian traffic, it will undoubtedly open more often.
Perhaps more important to home owners, however, is that Kent Narrows is fast becoming the place to keep a pearl like Oyster Cove. Most of the shanties have disappeared --- thanks in part to public housing provided elsewhere by the county.
Meanwhile the Kent Narrows Development Foundation -- a coalition of businessmen, private land owners and county officials -- is working to develop Kent Narrows into a mini-Inner Harbor, but with the emphasis on its seafood industry.
Always a watermen's enclave, Kent Narrows would retain its character under the plan now being developed by the foundation. A county-operated marina with more than a hundred slips for watermen would keep the sleek, white deadrises, laden with crabs, clams or oysters, plying the waters of the Narrows while tourists, dining at waterfront restaurants, could watch watermen return and unload after a day's catch.
The foundation hopes to take over a portion of the old draw span to use as a pedestrian walkway, thus connecting both sides of Kent Narrows and making the area more attractive to tourists.