Gray squirrels, mockingbirds and other wildlife won't have to flee their nests when a housing development opens next month in Laurel.
Patuxent Springs, a 70-lot residential community, has been designated Howard County's first urban wildlife sanctuary by the National Institute for Urban Wildlife in Columbia.
"Our hope is to minimize the impact of development on wildlife," said Lowell Adams, vice president of research for the institute, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting animals in urban areas.
"A lot of critters don't make it [in developed areas], and you lose a lot of species," he said.
To create an urban wildlife sanctuary, a property owner must select native plants, maintain open spaces for wildlife and create a committee to ensure those guidelines are satisfied, Adams said.
Patuxent Springs, for example, is setting aside two open spaces filled with bird houses, storm water retention ponds, indigenous trees and shrubs. In addition, homeowners may not cut down trees or plant exotic vegetation unless they have approval from the wildlife committee, institute President Gomer Jones said.
Storm water retention ponds will also be installed to avoid flooding nearby streams.
Because concrete sidewalks, roads and parking lots prevent rain water from seeping into the ground, excess water floods streams, destroying animal habitats.
Winchester Homes spent about $300,000 to $400,000 on landscaping, Sullins said. For a comparable housing development, landscaping usually costs less than $100,000, he said.
Despite the extra costs, more property owners have sought to create urban refuges, institute officials said.
"It's more and more accepted," Adams said. "There's more sensitivity on the part of the developers."
Currently, there are 124 such sanctuaries throughout the nation, including six in Maryland, Jones said.
Wildlife will be welcomed in Patuxent Springs, which is being developed by Winchester Homes Inc. Bluebirds and purple martins can find bird houses alongside $300,000 homes as well as native oak, pine, and birch trees, which provide food and shelter for many species.
"You'll be able to enjoy undisturbed wildlife," said Victor Wazen, Winchester Homes community sales. The developer builds single-family homes, town houses and condominiums throughout Maryland and Virginia.
"Everybody wants to do their share," Wazen said. "They're very conscious of the environment."
Winchester Homes Vice President Jim Sullins said the company DTC approached the institute last fall about creating an urban wildlife sanctuary.
The 43-acre site will feature a wide variety of deciduous and evergreen trees, including oak trees that provide acorns and den sites.
Low-lying shrubs will also be planted to attract a greater number of animals, Sullins said.
"Different kinds of critters live at different levels," said Adams, "which provides increased habitat diversity, which leads to increased wildlife diversity."