A man of conviction, and success

August 14, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

The huge greenhouse is gone, as are the metal spikes that held upright hundreds of white spruce, Douglas fir and Virginia pine. Also gone is the sprawling, rustic shop bustling with plants, seedlings and dried and silk flowers, where holiday shoppers shook off the cold with complimentary hot cider and coffee.

They have all been demolished and removed in recent weeks, leaving only a swath of jagged land just off Owen Brown Road in Columbia, where Metzler's Garden Center stood for decades, and which soon will be transformed into a high-end minisubdivision.

The developer, the Williamsburg Group, expects to begin construction on the first three of 11 homes in October, with the remaining built over the next 18 months.

The homes will begin in the $800,000s, but selling them apparently will be no problem.

"We probably received 60 to 70 calls before we ever did anything," says Tim Morris, vice president of the Williamsburg Group.

Eleven homes might not seem like much, especially when compared with the hundreds scheduled for the planned communities of Emerson, Turf Valley and Maple Lawn, Maryland. But Harry "Chip" Lundy was certain that small was better when he branched out on his own.

Lundy has almost always followed his convictions.

When a friend took Lundy aside early in his career and advised him to drop the "Chip" - short for "chip off the old block" - because it sounded unprofessional, Lundy's response was immediate and to the point.

"My dad named me Chip, and that's what's going to stay," he told his friend.

That unshakable assurance was demonstrated again in 1975. Lundy was 34 and had a good job as division manager for Mathew Phillips Inc., which had transferred him three years earlier from the corporate offices in Pittsburgh to Columbia. But he walked away from the steady paycheck to satisfy a craving to begin his own company.

"I thought it was a pretty good time to take a chance - to go out and mortgage your house and try to convince some banks to [lend] you money and give it a shot," he said.

He got the financing and formed Columbia Builders.

In retrospect, Lundy says, it was a brash move. It would have been too brash, perhaps, had executives of Rouse Co. not needed someone to help with their fledgling but enormous project - the new town of Columbia.

Columbia Builders prospered, offering modest homes, some at 2,400 square feet, which in those days was considered large. It also branched out into the townhouse market.

Lundy had other ideas.

"I wanted to build some single-family, high-end houses," he says.

Although the housing market had fluctuated, it was strong in 1983, so Lundy sold his interest in the firm to his partners and formed the Williamsburg Group.

The timing proved regrettable - and fortuitous.

The market softened again, and then it nearly collapsed.

That meant starting another company. The Gulf War had begun, and Lundy named his new company Patriot Homes.The company ended up averaging between 350 and 400 units a year.

In January 2002, the company was sold to Miami-based Lennar Corp., one of the largest homebuilders in the country. Lundy was required to sign a no-compete clause, but Lennar allowed him to keep the Williamsburg Group.

"They build more homes in a morning than we build in a year," Lundy says. "... They said, `You can go ahead and build 100 homes a year.' "

Lundy received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Homebuilders Association of Maryland in 2003. But the award of which he is proudest honors the company.

In 1984, the Williamsburg Group won the first award for excellence from the Homeowners Association. The company has won it for 21 consecutive years.

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