Sherrie Becker recalled how she came to live at Quarry Lake, the residential, retail, office complex in Pikesville.
Becker bought a home there in 2007, picking out a lot in the single-family residential area before any of the houses had even been built.
Becker, the former executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, and her husband, parents of four children, were downsizing from a large house in rural Baltimore County.
"We wanted something smaller and newer," she said, "and we love looking at the lake."
It's a typical Quarry Lake story.
After nearly a dozen years since its inception, the Quarry Lake mixed-use complex has emerged as an example of how the community, the county and the developer can come together to make a high-density project work.
Quarry Lake dates to 1999, when covenants with the neighbors required then-owner Arundel Corp. to cease operation at the 258-acre Greenspring Quarry.
The quarry had been in use since the 1870s, but Smith-Greenspring, the Pikesville neighborhood where it is located, had long since become a suburban community.
In 1980, when Arundel Corp. sought to change the zoning to develop the property, the neighbors objected. Only when Arundel Corp. agreed to a final closing date of Dec. 31, 1999, for the quarry did they relent and agree to a plan for future residential and commercial development.
'Mountain of dirt'
Quarry Lake is a mixed-use development that combines residential and commercial.
Currently, it has 380 housing units with about 550 residents, 90,000-square feet of retail and 250,000 square feet of office space.
Construction is not finished. A total of 573 additional residential units will be built, with an estimated two to three years to completion. Aside from two still-empty restaurant "pads" of 7,000-square feet each, there is no more room for additional retail or office space.
Before the quarry's official 1999 end of operations, Arundel Corp. hired Steven Koren, of the Columbia-based Koren Development Co., to develop the site. When bought the property from Arundel Corp., they retained Koren as the master contractor.
But before the first house, store or office building could go up, Koren faced the challenge of land reclamation — making the ground stable and usable.
"A mountain of dirt and slag had to be removed. Streams had to be diverted," said Neville Jacobs, president of the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition.
Jacobs spent long hours with Koren, county planners and then-District 2 County, now County Executive, as the project progressed.
"But if it hadn't succeeded," he said, "it would have dragged Pikesville down."
Constraints and concerns
Koren had to devise a development plan that met the covenants restricting the commercial portion.
"There were a lot of constraints I had to deal with," said Koren.
He said the size and location of Quarry Lake, just off the Beltway, gave it the potential to "define the character of Smith-Greenspring."
Questions arose about increased traffic on Greenspring Avenue, product mix within the complex, design elements, integration of the complex with the existing community and competition with nearby shopping.
The traffic question was addressed by widening Greenspring Avenue and installing a traffic light at the complex's entrance.
Koren's biggest challenge was getting the right mix of residential, retail and office.
The weakest link was retail. The retail acreage was limited by covenants. Also, access to Greenspring Quarry is via an entry road off Greenspring Avenue. The retail portion is not visible to passers-by, a disadvantage.
"The office and residential had to be strong enough to create the proper retail environment. You could not survive with just the residents," said Koren.
By then, the office buildings were up and being leased.
"The first office building was leased almost as soon as it opened," Jacobs said.
The neighbors weren't particularly happy with the request, said Jacobs.
"The covenant made sense when it was signed, but by the time the commercial site was being developed, it didn't work," he said. "The change allowed for a better commercial design."
To enhance the project, Koren used stone-theme design elements throughout and played up the lake.
Covering 40 acres, the lake was allowed to fill naturally from rain and a stream, Moore's Branch, a tributary of the Jones Falls that feeds into it.This year, it reached the desired level, 340-feet.
The retail space is 95 percent leased, with tenants that include national names like Fresh Market and Walgreens. The four office buildings are 97 percent leased.
"It was a great project for us," said Thomas Obrecht, of Obrecht Properties, which built and manages the commercial portion. "It's a great example where the developer, county and community came together."
Don Knutson, division president of Beazer Homes, builder of the residential portion, said that after the first residences opened in 2007 and, even during the real estate meltdown that followed, Quarry Lake homes continued to sell and construction is ongoing.
Beazer built two types of residences — single-family houses and condominiums — to appeal to different markets, from young families to empty-nesters.
The 63 single-family houses are sold out. Overlooking the lake is the Bluffs, 240 condominiums in five buildings — the fifth and final building will be completed in August of 2012. On the hillside is the Highlands, 270 condos in a planned 10 buildings; construction of the seventh building will begin this summer.
To Andrea van Arsdale, director of the county Department of Planning, Quarry Lake succeeds as a well designed and walkable community. And, "it proves that high-density development can work," she said.
Quarry Lake has several condominium associations as well as a five-member Master Board of Quarry Lake Communities on which Becker serves as vice president.
The board oversees the communal clubhouse and pool, the lake and Bluestone Park, a 7-acre park with a separate entrance off Greenspring Avenue.
While not a public park, it is, by agreement with the county, open to the public.
Becker walks around the lake every day, where many of the walkers she sees regularly don't live in Quarry Lake. The park, too, is heavily used by outsiders.
"There are amenities the whole community enjoys," she said.