Community BY design

May 01, 1994|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Staff Writer

When he first set eyes on 682 acres of sloping cornfields and scattered clumps of trees near Woodstock 14 years ago, developer Donald Reuwer saw a chance for something big, something more than the typical suburban development.

The property belonged to three separate owners, all clients of his. Before long, the developer had them pooling their land and sharing his vision of a self-contained place of more than 1,000 homes, where people could work, shop and play. Residents living in condos, townhouses or single homes backing onto fairways could play golf, take their children to playgrounds or stroll the pathways winding from end to end.

Waverly Woods II, the largest planned community in Howard County since Columbia, has begun to take shape, with construction expected to start by early next year, and the first of the homes ready by next spring.

It's been years in the making, while Mr. Reuwer's Land Design & Development Inc. designed the community on paper, waited for water and sewers to make it north of Interstate 70, and won land use approvals in one of the fiercest and longest running zoning battles the county has ever seen.

Developers say they're in no rush now. Owners GTW Joint Venture intend to build 1,000 homes, a small shopping center, 1 million square feet of office and other commercial space and a golf course -- but in five phases over 17 years. A reversal in zoning, approved by the county early last year, allows the mix of commercial and more dense residential development on property previously designated for rural, large-lot development.

County officials say Waverly Woods II will supply the county with much-needed townhouses and apartments and help entice employers. The plan makes sense, they say, because it channels development into an area off a major interstate where the county planned to extend water and sewer; it clusters homes, using about a quarter of the community for a public golf course; and it offers a mix of housing types.

"From a planning standpoint, we have predictability. We know what we'll get over the next 17 years," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning director. "This is smaller than a Columbia village, but not unlike many Columbia neighborhoods. The hope is people can live and work in the same area."

He expects homes to sell almost as fast as builders put them up.

"If they wanted to develop 1,000 units in the next three or four years, they could market them," Mr. Rutter said.

And that's just what many area residents fear. The plans represent the unthinkable to many who bought homes in nearby, upper-middle-class subdivisions, such as Allenford, Wetherburn, Waverly Woods and Market Square.

They shudder at thoughts of a little Columbia, hundreds of homes jammed onto the property, rather than more single-family homes on large lots, which dot the landscape now. From the start, they fought a community they say will generate more traffic and more schoolchildren than the stressed roadways and schools with portable classrooms can handle. Members of Citizens Allied for Rational Expansion have appealed to Circuit Court a county Zoning Board decision clearing the way for the project.

'A very drastic change'

"This is a very drastic change for this community," said Jean Quattlebaum, a group spokeswoman. "We have a two-lane country road leading in both directions to the community. There are no apartments or condos or townhouses along Route 99."

"People are up to their ears in traffic and in overcrowding to the schools," she said, adding that a retail center and golf course "doesn't help the kids in school or the traffic in the morning."

As a real estate agent in Howard County for 18 years, "I've been selling such a great location -- 30 minutes from Baltimore, 30 minutes from Washington, 10 minutes down the road you can be in the country, and you're 10 minutes away from shopping centers," she says. "All that's changing. People are very disillusioned. You just ride up and down the street and see the 'For Sale' signs."

But if the group prevails, Mr. Reuwer argues, the property owners still could build the higher-density homes. Only they wouldn't be bound to stretch the development over 17 years or build a public golf course, he said.

Building in stages

Staging the project, starting out building more of the condos -- which generate fewer schoolchildren -- and ending up building more of the single-family homes -- which generate more schoolchildren -- will give the county time to build two more elementary schools expected to open by 1997.

"Columbia brought a vision of what planned development could do," Mr. Reuwer said. "As a developer, you see things you could do better if you have some flexibility in the regulations."

In Waverly Woods II, such flexibility has allowed for smaller-than-usual lot sizes, leaving space for the golf course, to be built along with the first houses. That should be a benefit not only to subdivision residents but for the rest of the county as well, he said.

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