Expanding into a new field

Project: Rather than sell part of their family farm to residential developers, the Stanfield brothers created the community themselves.

May 31, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

When the Stanfield brothers decided to peel off 100 acres of their farm for housing, they wanted to guarantee that the new neighborhood would meet their standards.

So the two farmers developed the land themselves, hired an engineer, scouted for a builder, and brought in people to build the roads and wells.

Typically, farmers sell their land to developers and walk away. But Richard R. Stanfield, 65, and Edward F. Stanfield, 68, are not typical farmers.

In nearly a half-century on their 600-acre Edrich Farms, which straddles Randallstown, Woodstock and Granite in western Baltimore County, the Stanfield brothers have done a good deal more than raise cattle and grow corn.

They were pioneers 30 years ago in making mulch for gardens and playgrounds. With the help of their children, they built a tree nursery with an irrigation system. Today, the family also is in the lumber business, with the last hardwood sawmill in Baltimore County, next to its wood kiln and furniture wood shop.

The family grows corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, rye, pumpkin and squash, and raises Holstein cattle.

Its sprawling farm of rolling hills and mature trees is bounded by Old Court, Granite and Offutt roads, and resembles a small town where 100 people work, some of whom live on the land, as do three generations of the Stanfield family.

Since the brothers took over their father's dairy farm after graduating from the University of Maryland's agriculture school in the 1950s, they have not been intimidated by new ventures.

So when they decided to become housing developers in their 60s, they were undaunted.

"The Stanfields have an amazing ability to adapt over the generations from farmers to businessmen to builders," said county Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, whose district includes the farm.

For the brothers, developing their land made sense financially while allowing them to control the land they know so intimately.

"We thought we had the expertise to do it, and there was more money in it. We didn't have to mortgage the land. We held the cards to do it," said Ed Stanfield.

"We're trying to protect what's around us. I know every bad spot in the ground, every monument of stone, every sinkhole," he said.

Besides, said both men, they still live on the farm and wanted to control what the new community would look like.

"We're all going to die here, and our families and businesses are entrenched here," said Ed Stanfield.

In the 1990s, they decided to build 63 houses on 100 acres of their land. They agreed on where to locate the houses, hired an engineering firm, and began shopping for a builder.

They visited model homes in Howard and Carroll counties, examining basements for signs of quality. They asked recent homebuyers who were mowing their lawns whether they'd had any problems with their builders.

The brothers chose Harvard Homes of Columbia and sold out the first phase of Edrich Estates five years ago. Houses sold for $200,000 to $400,000.

"We've never heard of farmers who have decided to take on a project on their own until Ed and Dick," said Craig Carlson, president of Harvard Homes.

Carlson said he was impressed with the brothers from the day he met them, when they had already hired an engineering firm and had received preliminary approval from the county for the project: "They did their homework."

The Stanfields have gone into a partnership with the owners of an adjacent farm and are building a second phase, with 26 houses on 88 acres called the Trail Preserves, named for three sisters from the neighboring Trail family, which has owned the land for a century.

One of the sisters, Jane Culver, said her family has found the Stanfield brothers "very trustworthy" business partners.

"They know how to move forward and to change with the times. At heart they're farmers. They're just good, kind-hearted and honest people, but very sharp," she said.

Charles E. Young didn't know he was buying a house from the farmers next door until after he decided to purchase his new home in 1996.

That Christmas, Young and his neighbors found poinsettias delivered to their front doors, one of many personal touches from the Stanfield brothers.

Young is president of Edrich Manor Homeowners Association and considers it an advantage for the farmers next door to develop his neighborhood.

The Stanfields let the homeowners use a family meeting building on the farm for their community meetings.

"You know they had to do a good job because they are neighbors. Who wants to have angry neighbors?" said Young.

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