Forest Glen subdivision has town's priciest homes Exclusive community departs from goals of Rouse, some say

February 26, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Columbia's newest housing development is also its most expensive.

Three decades after Columbia was founded on the idea of mixing families of all income levels around shared open space, The Estates at Forest Glen caters to buyers looking to erect $1 million-plus homes on lots as large as 2.3 acres.

The new community -- off Route 108 just west of Harper's Farm Road in Harper's Choice village -- is nestled between the Hobbits Glen Golf Course and the 1,000-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.

"This is just another sign that Columbia has really changed," says Natalie Lobe, a Harper's Choice resident and longtime local real estate agent, who is not involved in the project.

"Columbia is not sticking to its original goals of mixed housing," she says. "Many of us moved here for idealistic reasons, because the housing mix was supposed to be as [economically] integrated as possible."

The project's advertising brochure isn't shy about touting its exclusivity: "The Forest is for a few, a place to call home."

So far, 10 of Forest Glen's 30 lots have been sold, according to David E. Forester, Rouse senior development director. Two custom homes have been completed -- the second family will move in this week -- and four others are under construction, builders said.

The development opened to prospective buyers in the fall of 1995, when a 9,000-square-foot show home was built to display new design and decorating ideas. That $1.2 million home was purchased last year and is occupied.

Little advertising for the project was done "because people who have the money know where we are," says Louis Siegel, president of Siegel Homes, one of the builders in Forest Glen.

Most of the purchasers of the subdivision's lots, which range from 1.3 acres to 2.3 acres, are young, growing families, who live in Columbia but want bigger homes, Siegel says.

Siegel's company had exclusive building rights in Forest Glen until last month, when another builder -- named Open Lots -- came in.

Above all else, prospective homebuyers seem to be drawn to Forest Glen for the land.

"We wanted an acre of trees," says Patti Petry, a computer manager who has three children and will move in next June from Prince George's County. "I wanted some space for the children to get out and play -- but not too far out. That was major, and that was hard to do in Columbia."

Petry and her family -- her husband is also a computer executive -- are planning a five-bedroom house on 1.3 acres, four lots south of Route 108.

Priced "in the $700s," her 4,000-square-foot house is the smallest in the neighborhood, she says.

Such families increasingly want large houses and yards, and county developers are heeding their call -- though typically outside of Columbia's borders. These homes now dot the once rural landscape of western Howard County and Carroll County.

"In the last 10 years, there has been an enormous explosion of expensive homes in Howard County," Forester says. "There has been a huge exodus to the 3-acre lots."

Says Siegel: "People who want to invest this money and time want to know their neighbor isn't going to build a shack."

Rouse Co. developers designed the new project with these buyers in mind. Those who buy lots in rural areas must drill wells and install septic tanks, but in the new development water main and sewer hookups are in place.

"This is just a small parcel for people who want the amenities of Columbia with one or two acres," says Forester. "It was something we wanted to provide."

Adds Siegel, "Forest Glen would like to be a little Bethesda or a little Beverly Hills."

But in Columbia?

The project will bear little resemblance to Columbia's original plans. Forester, of the Rouse Co., agrees that it contrasts with one of the main stated goals of Columbia's late founder James W. Rouse: A moderately priced community interspersed with more affordable housing.

The community is equidistant from the Harper's Choice Village Center and the planned center for River Hill village, but Forest Glen residents won't be able to walk to either center. This design differs from the Rouse goal of creating a pedestrian-friendly community in which neighbors could easily meet each other.

Sherman Howell, who lives across the golf course from Forest Glen in the Hobbits Glen neighborhood, says the new development doesn't mesh with the some aspects of Columbia, especially "not blending in the various income levels."

But, he says, "In all fairness, Jim Rouse always said the purpose of a city was to be a place where people could grow. People on the high end and low end should have room to grow. In that sense, it's acceptable to have that income level in Columbia."

Forester says the Rouse Co. "always encourages" affordable housing, but that such housing is difficult to build because financial sponsors are needed. No other developments similar to Forest Glen are planned for Columbia, Forester says, because there is no more space in the planned community for such big lots.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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