About 90 visitors meandered among the buildings of the Carroll County Farm Museum one sunny morning last week. From there, they boarded tour buses that drove them through downtown Westminster while a guide pointed out landmarks and related local lore.
The buses headed northwest through rolling hills and farms to Taneytown for a stop at a posh inn housed in a restored antebellum mansion and later a picnic lunch at Taneytown Memorial Park.
Then came Carroll Vista, the final stop and the reason for the three-hour odyssey. Carroll Vista, billed as an active adult community, will soon be under construction a few miles from downtown Taneytown.
Carroll Vista is being built through a partnership between Del Webb and Pulte Homes. Del Webb, which focuses on communities for active, older adults, will eventually have about 500 single-family homes and townhomes for residents age 55 and older, company owners said.
Carroll Vista, the first Del Webb community in the metropolitan area, will have a clubhouse, swimming pools, a golf course, tennis courts and walking trails and a lifestyle director to organize activities.
The development, which will be built on 300 acres of one-time farmland, is little more than tall mounds of earth being pushed and shoveled by heavy construction equipment. Pulte Homes will not break ground on the first homes until late spring. But the interest Carroll Vista has generated is so great that company officials said they may have to hold a lottery for the sales of the homes.
Del Webb has conducted three seminars that have drawn as many as 250 prospective buyers. Many of those took the bus tour last week.
"It would be a wonderful retirement alternative for us," said Nancy Shagogue of Reisterstown, who was on her first visit to the Carroll County Farm Museum in about 30 years. "We could be close to our children in an area that we are familiar with. I think we would buy as soon as it could be built."
Barbara Beverungen, Carroll County's director of tourism, and Nancy B. McCormick, Taneytown's director of economic development, were among the group.
"This is a smart marketing idea," Beverungen said. "They are selling the area and the quality of life here."
Guides pointed out popular restaurants, unusual shops, medical centers, golf courses and colleges along the bus route. The visitors heard a few ghost stories, descriptions of architectural highlights and the history of Civil War battle and encampment sites around the town, which is about 10 miles from Gettysburg, Pa.
The weather cooperated and gave visitors sun-drenched views of the countryside, with farmers engaged in early spring planting and cattle grazing in grassy fields.
"I lived in Montgomery County all my life from the time when it was rural like this area," said Bill McNamara of Bethesda. "Carroll County is really starting to grow, but it is still pretty out here."
His main motivation for retirement community shopping, McNamara said: "What I honestly want now is not to cut the grass anymore."
In that respect, he reflects a growing national trend of aging adults who want more comfortable homes with less maintenance, said Matthew Simmont, a Carroll County planner.
"The combination of climate, scenery and closeness to metropolitan areas is making Carroll attractive to many people," Simmont said. "These facilities still pay impact fees. Although they contribute to the development density, they have no impact on the schools."
Carroll County charges developers impact fees on each new home to offset the costs of the services and infrastructure those homeowners will need.
Deborah L. Coughlan, marketing manager for Pulte Homes Maryland Division, said the tour focused on the interests of active adults.
"This area has so much to offer the baby boomers who are reaching retirement age," she said.
Costs of the homes have not been set, but she estimated the single-family homes would start in the mid-$200,000 range.
When asked if the town could handle such a large development, McCormick said the project had been part of the town's master plan for growth for several years. The town of about 5,100 residents has an adequate water supply and the infrastructure in place to meet the demand, she said.
Taneytown will not lose its small-town atmosphere, McCormick said.
"This is hometown U.S.A., and that is the way we are going to keep it," she said. "People want the character we have here, and we have the amenities that can serve these new people."
Barbara Hough of Easton came along for the ride and to answer questions. She lives in a Del Webb community known as Chesapeake on the Eastern Shore. The company, which is based in Arizona, bills itself as the originator of lifestyle communities. Its first was Sun City, built near Phoenix more than 40 years ago.
"They have so much to offer," Hough said. "You can be as active as you want to be and as alone as you want to be." Virginia and Roland Wolf of Westminster had visited Chesapeake and were considering a move there until they saw Carroll Vista last week.
"I think we can stay in Carroll County now," she said.