Urban 'oasis' of beauty, safety Cross Keys offers upscale, campus-style living, shops, offices

Neighborhood profile: Village of Cross Keys

July 05, 1998|By Mary E. Medland | Mary E. Medland,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

David Widows describes the Village of Cross Keys as "an oasis within Baltimore city limits." It's a point that probably very few would care to argue.

Others compare the neighborhood -- it was James Rouse's original planned urban community -- to a small college campus.

Purchased from the Baltimore Country Club in 1962 by the Rouse Co., the 73-acre community today encompasses nine condominium buildings and an upscale shopping area, and it is the business address for a variety of physicians and other professionals.

Originally the country club's golf course, Cross Keys is bordered on the south by the Poly-Western high school complex, on the west by the Jones Falls Expressway, on the east by Falls Road and on the north by Northern Parkway.

It takes its name from an inn that -- for more than a century -- was just to the south, at the intersection of Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road.

The Rouse Co., which had its corporate offices there before moving them to Columbia, kept many of the older trees and original landscaping. Garden crews work year-round maintaining the green spaces.

Perhaps best-known to nonresidents are the 148-room Inn at Cross Keys and its restaurant, Crossroads. Adjacent to the inn is a myriad of stores that compose a shopper's fantasy.

"For starters, there's Octavia, the Store Ltd., Ruth Shaw, Jones and Jones, and Heirloom Jewelry," said John Hess, general manager of the Village of Cross Keys.

There's also a florist, children's and men's clothing stores, Williams Sonoma, Bun Penny, Cross Keys Health and Wellness Center, and outside, Crepes du Jour, where chef Mustapha Snoussi serves up made-to-order crepes.

In addition to physicians and their practices, Helix Health has a Cross Keys facility, as do Cross Keys Dental, Mid-Atlantic Dental and many other firms, including real estate agencies and insurance companies.

"I'd estimate that several hundred people work here," Hess said.

Although the precise number of people who live in Cross Keys is also inexact, residents make it sound like heaven on earth, or at least a very posh resort.

"When we moved from New York, we looked at about another 10 neighborhoods, but really loved Cross Keys," said Jeannie Walden, whose husband, Alan Walden, is the morning news anchor for WBAL radio. "We didn't want to mow the grass, shovel the snow or rake the leaves."

Jeannie Walden, who didn't know how to drive when she arrived in Baltimore, particularly appreciated the village's shopping, and for her husband, whose weekdays begin about 2 a.m., the five-minute drive to the station was a plus.

While Cross Keys is home to a plethora of empty-nesters and retired people, few parents with small children make their home there, Walden said. But the neighborhood does house people as young as 30 and is particularly popular with physicians, residents and interns.

"It's really a good mix of people," said Widows. "You can get to know people, who they are and what they've done. But if you want to be private, that's also possible."

For residents, there are also several swimming pools, outdoor tennis courts and numerous walkways and sidewalks.

A clubhouse draws residents with piano and voice recitals, as well as receptions and parties, and houses a library that includes videos and books.

For those considering living in Cross Keys, there is a variety of housing options: 115 townhouses; 273 garden, 90 mid-rise and 195 high-rise condominiums.

There are nine separate, self-governing condominium associations, and the entire neighborhood is managed by the Cross Keys Maintenance Corp.

"Right now there are more one-bedroom garden units on the market than anything else," said Craig Thomson, a Realtor with the Roland Park office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "One-bedroom [units] can run for as low as $49,000. The last one I sold was a one bedroom in mint condition that went for $67,500."

All units have parquet floors, central air conditioning, storage lockers and, of course, condo fees, which Thomson said can run as high as $400 per month.

Two-bedroom units can run in the high $60,000 range, and a three-bedroom unit can cost between $95,000 and $140,000.

There are about 22 units on the market, said Thomson, including one two-bedroom townhouse, with an asking price of $114,900.

"I think the market has been a bit off recently, although I don't know why," he said. "Things seem to be coming back, and there are still some great buys.

"There are several reasons people buy here: security, central location, good maintenance and prestige."

Security is clearly important. "You feel wonderfully safe," said Jeannie Walden. "It's a patrolled neighborhood."

And Cross Keys is, as Widows puts it, "10 minutes from everywhere."

Widows, who previously lived in Baltimore County, had long been familiar with Cross Keys, largely because of its shopping. "I was always intrigued by Cross Keys -- it's different," said Widows, who for the past decade has lived in a three-bedroom townhouse that he gutted and redesigned.

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