Last Cross Keys homes are hit at luxury prices

Sellout: Sixteen families paid $350,000 to $750,000 for townhouses in Roland Green, the last residential section of the Cross Keys gated community in North Baltimore.

July 25, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

For nearly 30 years, Carole and Mickey Fox lived in the "Sugarville" section of Pikesville in Baltimore County. But when they were looking for a home that required less maintenance, they bought in Baltimore -- at the Village of Cross Keys.

"We go to Florida in the winter and come north every spring," Carole Fox explained. "We didn't want to downsize, but we wanted all the conveniences of living in a condominium -- to have someone else take care of the grass cutting and snow removal. This is wonderful. I love the location. I love the house."

The Foxes are among 16 families that have purchased homes at Roland Green, the last residential phase of Cross Keys, the mixed-use community that the late developer James W. Rouse launched 35 years ago.

The houses were sold out before construction began -- with prices ranging from $350,000 to $750,000. Nearly half the buyers, like the Foxes, came from outside the city limits.

"We didn't do any advertising, didn't do any brochures," said Larry Rosenberg, president of Mark Building Co, the builder. "Yet we had a waiting list."

This is Mark Building's first project in the city. Rosenberg attributed the quick sellout in large part to the unconventional design of the houses he built at Cross Keys -- large, two-story residences with all of the key living spaces on the first floor -- including the master bedroom and bathroom suite -- and guest quarters above. He said there was nothing else like it in the city -- and that was part of its appeal.

"We call them cluster patio houses," he said. "They are truly townhouses. You could also call them single-family attached. They're 56 feet wide, with two-car garages and one or two steps into the mudroom. They're light and airy, with cathedral ceilings in the living and dining areas. And the master bedroom is not just tacked on but very much incorporated into the plan."

Rosenberg said the buyers are primarily empty nesters -- couples whose children have grown and who want to move to a secure community where homes are relatively maintenance free but who aren't yet ready for a retirement community.

Many are still working and want to have guest rooms available for use when their grown children or others visit.

Word-of-mouth sales

"This was a perfect opportunity for an infill development in an existing neighborhood where there was underutilized land," he said. "We were very fortunate in that the sales were done by word of mouth. Once word got out that we were contemplating building this type of product [a first-floor master bedroom floor plan], many people expressed interest, because it hadn't been available in this area."

Completed this summer, the development adds at least $4.8 million in housing stock to the city tax rolls -- or about $184,300 in annual taxes.

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said the sellout shows that affluent buyers will purchase new homes in the city, as long as builders provide the layouts and quality of housing they want.

"Getting Larry Rosenberg in Baltimore City was an important event for us," Henson said. "He built a product which to my mind is a great product -- not too much grass, but just enough -- and [in Cross Keys] he built upon a market that was already there.

"It's a gated community that has not only the perception but the reality of safety. It shows that there is a strong demand for housing in the city. If you give people what they want, they'll come."

Prototype for Columbia

The Village of Cross Keys, a 78-acre community on former property of the Baltimore Country Club, is on the west side of Falls Road between Northern Parkway and Cold Spring Lane.

James Rouse, founder of the Rouse Co., launched it in 1962 as a model for urban living and a prototype for Columbia. In 1964 the first resident moved in and the retail center opened a year later.

The new houses were built on a 4-acre parcel just north of the Shops at the Village of Cross Keys. They bring to 688 the number of residences at Cross Keys.

The land was the last parcel available for residential construction in Cross Keys.

Rosenberg had worked elsewhere with the Rouse Co. and was interested in building at Cross Keys because he liked its convenient access to shopping, highways and established neighborhoods such as Roland Park. But he felt that a conventional townhouse development would not be appropriate.

"That was not what the market dictated," he said. "Baltimore was really lacking in options for the empty nester."

Fla. community was model

Rosenberg said he looked at housing developments around the country to identify prototypes that would appeal to affluent empty nesters. In Longboat Key, Fla., he said, he discovered the cluster patio houses, and adapted them for the Maryland climate.

With the master bedroom on the first level, he said, a couple can have access to every major part of the home without climbing stairs. But if they have grown children or other guests coming to visit, they'll have room upstairs for them to stay overnight.

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