Six miles of luxury

Big lots: Large minimum lot sizes and density limits have created some of the most expensive real estate in Baltimore County.

April 14, 2002|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Just about any county in any state has one.

A golden stretch of real estate where each new development brings high prices and attracts high-profile buyers.

In Baltimore County, this undisputed area of prime real estate is known simply as the Falls Road corridor.

This six-mile stretch begins just north of the Baltimore Beltway and ends at Shawan Road. The section has for almost 30 years been home to some of the most desirable housing developments in the metropolitan area, while commanding some of the highest new-home prices on the market.

According to those who buy and sell along this winding road, the lure that attracts top-dollar buyers comes from its proximity to some of Baltimore's best private and public schools and its pastoral ambience.

John Meredith, a former president of the Falls Road Community Association, has lived in the area all his life and has seen it slowly develop into an upscale residential community.

"It's been a gradual thing. The land was never really suitable for large parcels of farmland because it was so hilly," Meredith said. "So it became impractical for people to farm it and was more valuable to sell it to developers. Fortunately, the zoning was in place that didn't allow more than one house per acre from the very beginning."

For Tim Rodgers, president of Hill & Co., a boutique realty firm in Cross Keys that for years has claimed numerous transactions up and down the corridor, the area is "probably one of the most convenient neighborhoods in Baltimore County."

"It also offers new construction, which is harder to find in convenient locations. Many people who originally bought in that area came for the public schools. It is also close to the private schools. The combination of these is certainly a win-win situation," Rodgers said.

For many residents along the Falls Road corridor, the public school district includes Riderwood or Pinewood elementary schools, Ridgely Middle and Dulaney High. At least a dozen private schools are nearby, including Maryvale Preparatory School, St. Paul's School, St. Timothy's School, Park School and Loyola High School.

While prices for newly constructed homes are sometimes advertised as starting in the high-$500,000 range, it's more common to find new homes in the $800,000 to $1 million range.

"I think that within Baltimore County that corridor is pretty unique," said Marc Witman, an agent with the Greenspring office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "There are similar areas in Howard, Carroll and Harford counties. But as soon as you talk about those other counties, you pull yourself farther away from downtown Baltimore. There is similar ambiance elsewhere, but not the convenience to downtown."

Existing homes have continually commanded top dollar as well. According to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the multiple-listing database used by real estate brokers, the average sale price of an existing home in the Falls Road corridor last year was $346,490.

Karen Hubble Bisbee, an agent with the Greenspring office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, says the convenience of the Falls Road corridor has helped shape it into a high-end market.

"The Falls Road corridor offers that very sound sense of privacy, or the illusion of being surrounded by more land then perhaps you really are. Part of that is the fact that you are not raising up houses in the middle of cornfields," Bisbee said. "There is beautiful, beautiful old-growth tree structure out there."

She pointed to Laurelford and Westwicke - probably two of the most-sought-after luxury housing developments in Baltimore County - as a case study in land use.

"The developers were able to design those communities to look like they have been there for a very, very long period of time," Bisbee said. "The area has all the qualities and conveniences of a good suburban neighborhood, but you have the illusion of being in the country or nearing the country. And those things are important."

Near Hunt Valley

The development of the Hunt Valley business area has also helped attract executives to the Falls Road corridor.

"There are thousands and thousands of jobs in Hunt Valley that didn't exist 10 years ago," Bisbee said. "The two-career family, where one works in the city and the other in Hunt Valley, is a very familiar scenario. And the Falls Road corridor is the perfect location for those people."

Melvin C. Benhoff of Benhoff Builders recently completed Ivey Trace, a nine-home development where prices ranged from $1 million to $3 million.

Benhoff has built homes along the corridor for the past 20 years in neighborhoods that include Springhill Farms, Westwicke and Laurelford. He believes the access to Interstate 83 can't be beat.

"For some reason, that pocket attracts an executive or business owner who wants that convenience," Benhoff said. "The executives that come by there definitely want access to the I-83 corridor."

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