Columbia's final piece Villages: The journey the Rouse Co. launched 30 years ago winds down as builders showcase models in the last parcel for single-family homes.

January 18, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

He stared back with eyes ablaze. The question was unthinkable. It was unfathomable. Like the preacher on the pulpit, his answer came with the force of fire and brimstone.

"When a town says, 'We're at the end,' they are truly at the end. Shame on the town that says, 'I'm at the end.' When you start thinking in those terms that my neighborhood is at the end, you're in deep doo-doo."

It's as though Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president and director of community development for the Rouse Co., wanted to hear an "amen."

The question was innocent enough. For the Rouse Co., the last parcel to be developed for single-family homes in the last of Columbia's nine villages is at hand. This weekend the model home park in the last phase of Pheasant Ridge in the Village of River Hill opens with nine builders showcasing 11 models.

And now the 30-year trek that began with the Village of Wilde Lake had arrived at its final resting place. How did it feel to come to the end? A blasphemous question. Scavo wouldn't hear of such nonsense. The sermon continued.

"I have a theory -- I think it's physics -- it says, 'There ain't no such thing as stability.' If you are not breathing in, and you're not breathing out. You're not.

"You always have to get better. The village center has to get better. The house next door has to get better. You don't have to grow, you just have to progress. You have to keep current. You have to be there for the future.

"Is this the last village? Yeah, numerically, this is the ninth village. So what?" he said defiantly. "Wilde Lake is being renovated. Oakland Mills is being renovated. Long Reach is being renovated. We knock buildings down in the downtown and other areas and build other buildings. We're not to the end of that by any stretch of the imagination."

There will be 533 lots, varying from one-tenth to one-half acre in size, spread over 425 acres. The nine builders -- including Allan Homes, Ryland Homes and Williamsburg Builders -- are all staples of Columbia.

The style of home available spans the traditional to the Colonial and on into the Southern and contemporary. Likewise, prices begin at just under $200,000 and then steadily climb so that many of the homes developed in this community will settle well above $300,000, perhaps even higher.

"It's hot. It's a hot neighborhood," said Pat Hiban, an associate broker with Re/Max Advantage Realty in Ellicott City who deals in high-end properties. "In Howard County, a lot is driven by schools, and River Hill High School is a very hot high school right now. It's a school that everyone wants to go to.

"The whole area, just about every spec of it is new," he said, adding that its fresh, rural appeal -- being next to Clarksville -- generates a contrast to some of Columbia's other neighborhoods, which have been worn by time.

Then there is Rick Cantore. He lives in nearby Pointers Run with his wife, Missy, and their two children, Ricky, 6, and Sophia, 4.

"I've seen that area kind of catch fire, and I've seen people paying a pretty penny to get into that [school] district," he said.

What makes Cantore unique is that when curiosity-seekers walk into the Allan Homes model, they'll be walking into his home. So confident of the neighborhood is Cantore, vice president of Lakeside Title Co., that he bought the model and is renting it back to the builder for three years.

The deal made sense to Cantore. His Pointers Run home, valued at about $260,000, was built by Allan Homes, and his company has done work for Allan Homes' principal, Allan Washak. Cantore bought the model for less than its appraised value -- and if he was going to move in the future it wasn't going to be out of Columbia, where he and his wife were raised.

"I thought that in three years that model may be something in my range, and why don't I do something about it right now," he said.

"It was a good financial situation for the builder, a good financial situation for me, but if it [the model] was outside of Columbia, it never would have been considered," Cantore said.

The Cantores would make Alton J. Scavo proud. They fit, for the most part, the perfect profile of who buys in Columbia. It's Columbians themselves. Scavo waves his hands and firmly says it's the balance, the discipline, the alignment and the focus of the Columbia formula that keeps people such as the Cantores from leaving.

"You have got to have all the aspects of life," he said. "Not just the house and not just the business opportunity. The service is the whole thing.

"It really fed on itself. It's the reason why people bought here and then reinvested here. Fifty percent of all the homes that will be sold at this model home park will be to people who already live in Columbia," said Scavo, who came to Rouse as a designer after graduating from Louisiana State University in the late 1960s.

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