Tucked in a wooded glen on the other side of the railroad tracks, a new upscale custom-home development is breaking ground. This isn't a burgeoning town in Howard or Carroll counties. This is Dundalk.
Fliers for Beachwood Estates near North Point Boulevard could offer these directions: Drive past the tractor-trailer lot, around the bend by the American Yeast factory and turn where the road dead ends at white clapboard houses with crab pots hanging from the eaves.
In this mostly blue-collar Baltimore burb -- a landscape of industrial compounds and working rivers -- homes last year cost an average of $74,874, according to the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.
Yet Altieri Homes and Chapel Homes are betting that homebuyers want to upgrade. Altieri in February contracted to buy 55 lots from Chapel, which has built and sold 60 homes during the past two years in the Edgemere area.
In these new developments, the vinyl-siding, shuttered-window
style and home prices are familiar to Baltimore suburbanites: The 1,370- to 2,500-plus-square-foot houses cost between $135,000 and $200,000.
"There's a pent-up demand," said Jim Gay, a broker at Olde Colonial Realty in Dundalk. "For years, no one has ever filled that market. We see lots of people who own individual homes and want better individual homes."
A total of 461 homes were sold in the Dundalk area between Aug. 1, 1996, and Aug. 1, 1997, according to real estate records. Mostly, those houses dated to post-World War II building booms.
"Cape Cods were just the thing all the returning GIs wanted for themselves and their brides," said Patrick Welsh, a local real estate broker and president of the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce.
At Beachwood Estates, 328 custom houses are planned in 146 acres off Morse Lane near Wise Avenue Extension and the Chesapeake Bay. Altieri operates separately from Chapel, which has owned the land for several years and suffered delays partly due to zoning court battles with Baltimore County.
Chapel has developed Beachwood North, building 22 of 30 homes set for mostly half-acre lots. At the adjacent Beachwood Estates, Altieri plans to have 15 homes built and sold by the end of 1997. Chapel projects that 30 more homes will be done there by year's end.
"We went through a market analysis and found a need," said Joe Maranto, Chapel Homes vice president. "When we first set a trailer out there, we were selling a dream. Now we are able to sell a reality."
"Edgemere is an upscale area of Dundalk near the river," said Scott Adashek, Altieri marketing and operations director. "Yet this area is underserved by everybody."
Maranto and Adashek said prospective buyers come mostly from the Dundalk area, a close-knit community where new generations stay near, building families and bonds. "This is traditionally what they call a five-minute market," Adashek said. "Where you are, you go out five minutes and that's your market."
In recent years, Dundalk families who wanted newer, bigger homes have had to move to Harford County. Area Realtors say that for many local couples with dual incomes, the newer models are within their price range.
"There's an absolute need, a great demand for more upscale family homes," said Welsh, a broker at O'Conor, Piper & Flynn. "There hasn't been much chance of that happening."
Dundalk has been one of the Baltimore area's least likely targets for high-end residential development. The area is home to construction and commerce -- backhoe lots, auto parts stores, carpentry shops and fishing boats. And it's mostly built out.
It doesn't, however, take much to lead a homebuyer to water. While the new houses in Edgemere are not waterfront, the Back River and bay are a rock's throw away. The developments have limited access to the river. Chapel Homes has preserved about 85 acres as open space, wetland and woods.
More developers may follow suit in markets previously viewed as middle- or low-scale. Altieri, a family-owned company that has built 400 homes in the Baltimore area since 1990, has focused partly on providing custom homes in communities where they are scarce, Adashek said. The company's one-acre homesites in Woodstock, known as Edrich Manor, has been bought mostly by BAfrican-American families, he said. Those houses start in the low- $200,000 range.
Dundalk price differences also might entice some buyers. For example, Altieri's Ben Franklin model, a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage, could cost $200,000 in Carroll County, $230,000 in Owings Mills and about $250,000 in Howard County. Here, it costs about $170,000.
Altieri amenities include a garden tub in the master bathroom, brass lighting fixtures, hardwood foyers, wood-crafted mailboxes and porches, and step-down living rooms in some models. Chapel Homes offer some of that, plus an intercom system, masonry gas fireplace, security system and French doors.