High-IQ trailblazing

Non-sprawl: The 10-year-old Russett housing development preserved a third of its woodlands, allowing for 12 miles of trails.

November 28, 1999|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

They were practicing "smart growth" long before that catch phrase had caught on.

They were intent on preserving wetlands and retaining green space.

They developed the community at the cross hairs of major roadways and adjacent to major lines of mass transportation.

Simply, the brain trust of Russett -- celebrating the moving in of its 2,000th resident since opening a decade ago -- has seen the 613-acre community in Anne Arundel County blossom into a model for the modern residential development.

"Russett fits very much into the smart-growth mold," said Steve Cover, who was director of planning and code enforcement for Anne Arundel County when Russett began. "It's not sprawl, but concentrated in an area targeted for intensive growth, and it didn't put a demand on public utilities."

In 1988, Curtis F. Peterson, a developer in Columbia, created Russett Center Limited Partnership and purchased a 1,000-acre parcel at the junction of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 198 from a bank that had foreclosed on the property.

The prerequisites for Russett were sewer, water and roads. Because of its location next to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, there was no need to build highway access to the land. The major infrastructure problem was an antiquated waste water treatment facility that could not handle the anticipated capacity of the new community.

To solve the problem, the partnership worked with the county to build a state-of-the-art waste water treatment facility that tripled the area's capacity.

With the infrastructure assured, the main design concept of the community then started to develop.

Peterson, a member of the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research institute that studies land use and development, put together a group of ULI members to act as an advisory board for Russett.

"The ULI acted as a sounding board for his ideas," remembered Marshall Zinn, Russett's project manager who has been involved with the development since its beginning.

The result was that the preservation of the natural features of the land drove the design of the development, Zinn said. Great care was taken to avoid building on wetlands.

Ravine left undisturbed

"Only 2.2 acres of wetlands were disturbed by the construction of the main loop road," Zinn said. "A wooded ravine along a tributary that runs through the property to the Patuxent was left undisturbed as well."

A first-time visitor is struck by the natural beauty of the community that was made possible by clustering homes to preserve a third of the woodlands. Instead of clear-cutting the site, as many developers do, the homes in Russett seem to be carefully nestled between the stands of trees. The trees act as buffers between streets and give each neighborhood a small wooded park.

"The sense of community here is fostered by the design," said Eva Hill, who has lived in Russett for three years. The most appealing thing about the community is the amount of forest that has been preserved, she added.

Most of the development spawl in Maryland is characterized by houses on farmland barren of any landscaping or vegetation. Along with integrating forestland into the development, the quality of Russett's landscaping is far above the usual subdivision standard.

"The most special thing in Russett is its landscaping," said Roger Lewis, a professor of architecture at the University of Maryland and a member of Russett's design review committee. "We planted trees with larger trunk diameters about 30 feet apart," Zinn said. The more mature trees have made their presence after only a few years, he added.

Other landscaping elements played an important role in visually unifying the community. The same stone used on the overpasses of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was matched throughout Russett on retaining walls and at entrances to neighborhoods. And there is the 12 miles of hiker/biker trails that wind through the acres of forest.

Trail to nature preserve

"The trails not only interconnect the community but also foster a sense of community," said Lynn Zinn, Marshall's wife and marketing manager for Russett. One trail leads to the 287-acre Oxbow Nature Preserve, which was dedicated to Anne Arundel County in 1991.

Russett, which also has 300 apartment units, carries a variety of housing styles.

"There's no segregation of housing products," said Ray Strychalski, the development's planner who formerly was a senior associate of Niles Bolton.

Townhouses are adjacent to streets of single-family houses. The lot sizes for houses average about 60 feet wide by 100 feet deep, far smaller than typical subdivision lots of 1 and 2 acres. "The trade-off [for] using a smaller lot is that you save a lot of trees," Lynn Zinn said.

Specific builders are responsible for producing particular building types. Ryan Homes and Patriot Homes construct the single-family houses; Coscan Brookfield, Ryan Homes and Altieri Homes Inc. are building the townhouses; and Bozzuto Homes, the condominium buildings.

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