The developers of the new Cobblestone development in th Owings Mills area had this problem: How do you fit 118 houses on a development site that normally would accommodate only 80?
Talles Homes' solution: a site-development plan called Z-lot. The luxury homes are placed on narrow 6,000-square-foot lots with staggered placements of L-shaped side yards.
On a Z-lot, the space around the house zigzags like the letter Z, and even though the houses are close together, there are windows on all four sides.
Z-lots are often compared to so-called zero lot developments, where a house is placed on one edge of the property -- sometimes with no windows on that side -- and the main entrance on the other side.
Located at Mount Wilson Lane and Reisterstown Road just outside Pikesville in Owings Mills, the 37-acre development recently held its formal opening. There are three models to choose from -- beginning at $289,000.
Bernie Robbins of Talles Homes said Cobblestone is targeted toward empty nesters or working couples with families who want a house that has a minimum of upkeep.
When he bought the land in 1988, Talles Homes was in the middle of building the nearby Green Tree town house development. In that development, the model with a first-floor master bedroom was by far the best seller, Mr. Robbins said.
Based on that knowledge, he decided to try building houses that would appeal to people who were selling houses they had had for 20 years and who were looking for an alternative lifestyle.
"There is a need for empty-nester housing. This site is a natural for Z-lot or cluster homes," Mr. Robbins said.
According to William Devereaux, division manager for the Washington office of Berkus Group Architects, who designed Cobblestone, Z-lots were first developed about 10 years ago. "You can generally trace new ideas back to recessions over the years," he said.
"A lot of people don't want to take care of acre lots," Mr. Devereaux said. The Z-lot concept with small, fenced-in yards is similar to the expensive Georgetown homes in Washing
ton that have private courtyards and a minimum of exterior maintenance.
Even though land costs at Cobblestone are lower, it's not inexpensive to build or display the houses, Mr. Devereaux said. He pointed out that because of the close placement of the houses, the landscaping, fences and driveways become crucial design elements.
Because of the unusual arrangement of houses and yards, Mr. Robbins had to obtain five zoning variances per house from Baltimore County.
Jack Dillon, senior planner for the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning said the variances were required because this is the first time the Z-lot plan has ever been used in the county.
"Throughout the zoning process, there was no community opposition," Mr. Dillon said.
He also said the development fits in perfectly with the Reisterstown Road Corridor Plan that was passed by the county in 1986. That plan calls for preserving natural space along Reisterstown Road and for adding pedestrian walkways in the area.
Mr. Dillon said he liked Cobblestone's use of winding sidewalks, walled areas and landscaping along Reisterstown Road. He pointed out that the nearby Festival at Woodholme retail and office complex has a similar front with a sidewalk that meanders beside double and triple rows of London plane sycamore trees alongside Reisterstown Road.
The first five sales in the Cobblestone development have all been the Blair, the only furnished model.
The Blair, the midsized model, has 2,650 square feet of space. A central feature of this house is a glass wall that rises two stories between the living room and the family room. The house has a master bedroom and bath on the first floor, and two bedrooms and an open loft area on the upper level.
The other model with a first-floor master bedroom is the Adams, which has 2,400 square feet of space and features a cathedral ceiling with skylights over the living room. The house also has two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor.
The largest of the models is the Carroll, with four bedrooms and an optional fifth bedroom -- all on the second floor. The 2,712-square-foot house has an open stairway with a second-floor balcony that overlooks the living room and a wall of windows.
Homeowners must join an association that charges $100 monthly for all exterior maintenance.
The Cobblestone site has an interesting history. Back in the 1600s when Reisterstown Road was an Indian trail, the site was the location of a small Indian settlement, and until recent times owners of the land regularly unearthed Indian artifacts.
In the 1700s, the land became part of a 720-acre tract owned by Dr. William Lyon, who came to Baltimore from Perth, Scotland, in 1735. He named the property Wester Ogle after a family estate of that name in Scotland.He is credited with establishing Baltimore's first drugstore in 1746 on the corner of what are now Baltimore and Calvert streets.
Just behind the Cobblestone development are two houses that were part of the Lyon family estate.