A new, exclusive enclave is being carved out of the woods of Howard County, shielded by a golf course and a 1,000-acre nature preserve. It is drawing national attention and will set the standard for turn-of-the-century glitz in solidly middle-class Columbia.
The Estates at Forest Glen is a relatively small subdivision by Columbia standards. Only 30 building lots will be sold. But many of the homes will be priced well over $1 million. Contracts on five homes that are either under construction or close to beginning are averaging around $900,000, according to Louis Siegel, an executive of Siegel Homes, builder of the luxury subdivision.
"A house in Forest Glen will range from the high 600s to the moon, depending on what you're building," Mr. Siegel said.
Most of the interest in Forest Glen has been generated by the one home that has been finished in the neighborhood by Siegel (( Homes, the custom building subsidiary of the Siegel Organization of Owings Mills. This $1.4 million home was built not simply as a model for prospective buyers of Forest Glen real estate but as an East Coast show home for Masco, one of the leading manufacturers of building, home improvement and home furnishings products.
Some 5,000 visitors have paid as much as $14 apiece to tour the lavishly decorated, state-of-the-art 8,500-square-foot mansion since it opened to public view five weeks ago. Tours for the public will end next weekend.
"People have come from Utah, Philadelphia, Boston, South Carolina, Chicago, New York to get design ideas and find out what not to do," Mr. Siegel said. "We have people coming back three and four times."
The home will be featured nationally in several specialty publications of Better Homes and Gardens. A virtual reality software tour of the residence is being developed by Apple Computer, according to Mr. Siegel.
The Siegel Organization already has a full-price offer for the show home, according to Mr. Siegel, son of the man who founded the Siegel Organization more than 40 years ago, Herbert Siegel.
But as the Masco show ends, the marketing of Forest Glen will continue for perhaps five more years, the time Louis Siegel says it will probably take to build the subdivision. The schedule calls for construction of six homes a year. "We're ahead of our timetable," Mr. Siegel says. "We don't want to go much faster."
For the Rouse Co., the enclave is unique. While there have been high-end neighborhoods built in Columbia, there hasn't been such a concentration of large-lot, luxury homes in one location, said Alton Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., developer of the nearly 3-decade-old planned community of approximately 80,000 residents.
"It's Columbia's answer to the three-acre subdivisions in Western Howard County," said David Forester, another Rouse executive.
Joseph Grasso, the head of Toledo-based Scholz Design, whose plans were used to build the Masco show home, says the community will have an "Old Money" style, a Classical Revival motif that will make the residences look a century old when buyers move in.
"From 1880 to 1930, a lot of great homes were done by great architects, and we're trying to get back to that kind of design," Mr. Grasso said.
A major component of the subdivision's appeal, those involved in the project say, is its location inside the northern edge of Columbia. As the Baltimore and Washington regions have developed, it has become very difficult to find sprawling parcels suited for luxury homes with access to both public water and sewer lines.
"Forest Glen is the only subdivision from Ellicott City to Georgia Avenue [Route 97] with one-plus acre lots that have public utilities," Mr. Siegel said. Much of the large custom-home development has moved into rural areas "because all the good stuff close in is gone," he said.
Located on the fringe of Columbia's Village of Harpers Choice, the Forest Glen community will have a secluded feel. On the south and east, it is bounded by the 18-hole Hobbits Glen golf course. To the west is the 1,000-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. One winding, 18-foot-wide road snakes through the community off Route 108. That's the only way in or out.
Lots range between 1.1 and 2.3 acres and most of the woods will be preserved, leaving many of the homes barely visible from the road.
Rouse officials say the project grew out of their continuing effort to match their inventory of undeveloped parcels with the trends in the marketplace and the needs of Columbia.
"Each year we look at the range of product lines we're able to offer consumers," Mr. Scavo said. "We have not done a large-lot customer area in many years."
As a result, some longtime residents of Columbia who had
achieved substantial financial success were leaving because they had to build the house of their dreams elsewhere, Mr. Scavo said.