Rouse proposal seen as threat to property values Mixed-use plan blamed for slump in sales of existing homes

Saturated market feared

Developer counters that 1,410 new homes will be good for area

October 15, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

It took Paula Glovier six months and a $20,000 markdown to sell her four-bedroom colonial house in the Falling Waters subdivision of North Laurel.

And she pins the losses squarely on a controversial plan by the Rouse Co. to build a Columbia-style village on a 522-acre site a mile west of the subdivision off Gorman Road.

"This is an 18-home community in a rural area," said Glovier, who temporarily lives in the nearby Bowling Brook subdivision and plans to move to western Howard County. "It's a desirable area, but I think the Rouse situation had something to do with [the protracted sale of the home]. I'm just happy that I got out while I could."

Glovier's experience -- and those of residents like her -- are causing a growing number of North Laurel homeowners to become concerned that the Rouse plan will cause a decline in property values, making it difficult to sell existing homes.

But Alton J. Scavo, a senior vice president for Rouse, says that scenario is unfounded.

"I find that hard to believe," Scavo said. "I think that a mixed-use development with the same kind of covenants and controls that exist in Columbia today would have a positive impact."

The Rouse plans include 1,410 single-family homes, townhouses and apartments on 522 acres straddling Interstate 95, south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216.

The proposal also calls for developing 89 acres for business and office use and preserving 183 acres as open space. Construction could start as early as 1999.

The village would have more residents than any other single development under consideration by the county.

The county Zoning Board will start hearings on rezoning the site from a planned employment center to mixed use and on the company's preliminary development plan Oct. 22.

The prospect of falling property values joins a list of objections -- overburdened roads, crowded schools, loss of rural ambience -- that residents have raised against the Rouse proposal.

Glovier, the former Falling Waters resident, said she reduced her original asking price of $225,000 because prospective buyers told her it was too high for a house in an area with an anticipated rise in the number of homeowners.

She sold the house in July -- six months after she had placed it on the market.

"Once they [Rouse officials] start developing their homes, my house was not going to be marketable," Glovier said. "I definitely took a financial loss. It was frustrating."

Jacqueline Beard, who also lives in Falling Waters, said the project has forced her to reduce the price of her 2,000-square-foot home from $219,000 to $209,000.

Buyers "have asked a lot of questions about that property," Beard said of the proposed site. "Questions like: What kind of development is going to go in there and what they're going to do with it?"

Barbara Lovett, a resident of Bowling Brook and a member of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee -- where the issue was discussed at a recent meeting -- said she paid $171,500 for a three-bedroom townhouse in 1989.

She said she has noticed similar homes selling for $15,000 less today, which she attributes to the townhouse component of the Rouse plan.

"When the market is oversaturated and houses aren't selling quickly or are selling for lower prices, then you know that you've got a problem," Lovett said. "There are going to be too many of the same kind of homes in a concentrated area. We need a better balance."

Fast-growing area

Although the North Laurel area is the second-fastest growing region of Howard County, there are no figures on how many homes are there.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, mail is delivered to 6,874 residential units in the 20723 ZIP code, which includes North Laurel.

Using that figure, the Rouse project would increase the number of homes there by more than 20 percent -- a figure that could harm the efforts of residents to sell their homes, said George Sampson, a real estate agent with O'Conor Piper & Flynn.

"In the old days, you could always buy a resale for less money than new homes," said Sampson, who has been selling homes in Howard County since 1988. "Now, builders build to sell low, and resales have to sell even lower to compete."

The North Laurel area has also experienced a lengthening of the time homes are on the market.

According to statistics from the Maryland Regional Information System, which tracks home sales in the state, there are 166 properties for sale this month in the North Laurel area.

Slow sales

A random selection of 50 single-family detached homes indicated the average time on the market was 212 days.

One single-family home in Lakeview -- with a listing price of $274,000 -- has been on the market for 655 days. A condominium in Canterbury Riding has been listed for 461 days.

Those statistics are startling to real estate agents like Pat DiCarlo of ReMax.

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