Secret haven of rich

Change: Northern Baltimore County, an area once populated by farmers, has moved upscale to become the land of extravagant living for people willing to pay the price.

June 23, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The biker bar is a pub. The fly-fishing shop caters to Armani-suited Yuppies in European cars. And at the old country store on York Road, customers can pick up milk, eggs and a good bottle of Scotch for $40.

At first glance, northern Baltimore County seems an unchanged landscape of rolling green pastures, horse farms and cornfields. But a closer look reveals a realm of grandiose homes with three-car garages, private golf courses and four-star restaurants.

Country living isn't what it used to be.

Baltimore County might be known as the land of pleasant living, but its northern-most region -- Hunt Valley, Sparks, Phoenix and Hereford -- could be called the land of living extravagantly.

"It's a secret haven for the wealthy," says Bron Proutt, 49, a five-year resident of Hunt Valley who is looking for a smaller home in nearby Cockeysville after raising two children. "It's becoming a very desirable place to live.

High-level executives who relocated with companies like MNBA, Becton Dickinson Microbiology and Lucent Technologies are searching for suitable housing close to work. For others, commuting has been eased in recent years with the arrival of the light rail and the opening of the Warren Road interchange on Interstate 83.

"I have this country setting, but I can get on 83 and get downtown in half an hour, Towson in 15 minutes and all the private schools are very convenient," says Proutt, an interior designer who has decorated many new luxury homes in the area. "That's what makes it attractive."

While the area always has been upscale with its time-honored steeplechases and sprawling estates, much of the property was out of reach for most homebuyers. But as parcels of land have gone on the market, developers are subdividing them and spreading the affluence.

In the last few years, real estate agents say, the area has become a top choice among the region's wealthy who are looking for land and luxury surrounded by oodles of privacy. And many are willing to pay almost any price for it.

"We've got $800,000 houses going up for sale in that area now that are being snatched up in less than a week," says

Diane Marsiglia, an agent with Gilbert D. Marsiglia & Co. Inc., a Lutherville realty group that opened up a satellite office in Hunt Valley three years ago because of the growing demand for luxury homes.

"You can't be making $50,000 a year and expect to live out here," says Marsiglia after showing a four-bedroom, custom-built house with adjoining in-law quarters in Phoenix.

It is no surprise then that the area has attracted business executives like Harry G. Pappas Jr., the co-owner of Krispy Kreme franchises, and Peter G. Angelos, owner of the Orioles, who recently bought Ross Valley Farms near Hereford. They join such well-known personalities in the area as ABC sports announcer Jim McKay and former Oriole Mike Flanagan.

And more wealth is on the way.

A community under construction surrounding the new Hayfields Golf Club boasts "exclusive home sites" that go for at least $250,000, with homes constructed on those lots starting at another $500,000, agents said.

The Preserve in Hunt Valley is building 41 estates, named after historical figures such as Martha Washington and ranging in price from $475,000 to $900,000.

This fall, developer Gaylord Brooks will begin building 29 homes, costing $450,000 and up, in Phoenix.

"The typical client wants a house with a library, a gourmet kitchen and oh, if you can, `I'd like one with a three-car garage, too,' " says Virginia Walten, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. "The typical attitude is `We want to be one room bigger than the neighbor.' You don't have to sell this area, it sells itself nowadays."

Then there are the eye-poppers.

In March, a five-bedroom colonial in Sparks sold for $1.4 million and a seven-bedroom farmhouse nearby sold for almost $1.7 million. Both were on the market less than a year.

But sales are also brisk for the area's "lower-end homes" in the $200,000 to $300,000 price range.

Embracing all this new luxury with open arms are business owners from Hunt Valley to Hereford.

Several businesses have upgraded their merchandise to keep pace with the tastes of people who have money to spend. Take Price's antique and convenience store on York Road in Sparks.

"It used to be you could buy milk and eggs here," says Nicholas Price, whose grandfather opened the store in 1906. "Now you can buy milk, eggs and a good bottle of Scotch for 40 bucks."

Residents shop at the "Gucci" Giant at Shawan and York roads, or for that country market feel, Graul's Supermarket in Hereford offers a barn motif.

Those looking to travel in style can shop at the Hunt Valley Saab, which opened two weeks ago and joined a plethora of other upscale dealerships within a two-mile stretch of York Road that includes Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW.

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