Ryland Group Inc., the suburban homebuilder, has discovered a new frontier -- Baltimore City.
After spreading its affordable-style homes across eight Maryland counties, the nation's third-largest homebuilder plans a move into Federal Hill. Columbia-based Ryland will introduce 42 "historic" town houses at Charles and Montgomery streets, its only venture in the city since a Ryland division built modular homes in Sandtown-Winchester.
The three-story all-brick homes will blend into the historic neighborhood of late-19th-century Victorian row homes, featuring rear-entry garages and sally ports, facade designs that mimic arched entries into back yards, said Derek A. McDaniels, Ryland's project manager for urban development.
Ryland decided several months ago to move into the urban market, said Art Titus, president of the mid-Atlantic region.
"The climate and the demand we see for houses in the city is a little stronger than in some other cities," Mr. Titus said. "We see this as a place where people want to live."
Local residents, many of whom favor building two- and three-bedroom homes on the vacant lot, praised Ryland's efforts to copy details of nearby homes' architecture but still expressed concerns that suburbia could invade their distinctive city streets.
"We would really like to see the development go forward, but you want it to fit into the 19th-century community," said Dick Leitch, past president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. "We see that a lot that has been vacant has a prospect for being developed, and we like the site plan. But we're concerned about the facade treatment and detailing. You don't want to see them doing cookie-cutter-type homes and plopping them down in Federal Hill."
Architect Patrick Sutton feared that, too, when he heard that developers Robert Agus and Bruce Scherr had lined up Ryland Homes' Montgomery Square. "All of us urban architects get nervous when we see auburban-development-type company come into the city," said Mr. Sutton, a Federal Hill resident.
Ryland initially showed a standard town house to the design review committee of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, said Mr. Sutton, a committee member. But, he said, "they have been very willing to work with the community and take our input as far as they can within economic reality" -- creating a variety of facades but stopping short of residents' desires for solid wood at the windows.
The 1,600-square-foot homes -- priced from the high $140,000s to the low $160,000s -- will have a den and garage on the first level, front or rear kitchen and living and dining rooms on the second level and bedrooms upstairs -- appealing to professionals who want a city lifestyle but don't want to renovate an old home, Ryland officials say. They could start selling in January if plans pass the Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals on Dec. 5.