Ah, it seemed perfect.
A few paces from Hank Boyd’s new single-family house was a charming garden ornamenting the encircling homes. He invited his girlfriend to have a seat.
“I thought it was strange that he wanted us to sit in the garden, because it was freezing,” recounted Isabel Boyd.
Maybe it wasn’t the best location for a marriage proposal, particularly on a cold October day five years ago. So Hank Boyd ended up popping the question in the community’s clubhouse — the same place that later hosted the Boyd bridal shower, the Boyd wedding reception and the Boyds’ baby baptism reception.
The clubhouse and other public spaces have become special places for the Boyds and other residents of Maple Lawn.
That’s exactly what developer Greenebaum & Rose hoped would become of this place when the first residents moved into the planned community six years ago.
The plan was to create a place where residents have no reason to venture off the 604-acre premises to fill car tanks, mail packages, deposit checks or catch a happy hour with friends. All of that is available within a 15-minute walk down the main road that connects the 546 townhouses, condominiums and single-family houses to the business district and the Harris Teeter that arrived two years ago.
The Howard County development is nestled halfway between Baltimore and the District, a selling point for many of the residents. For Darryl and Stephanie Hollingsworth, it meant relief from the one-hour work commute from their previous home in Randallstown, Md.
“The location was the biggest attraction for us,” said Darryl, a systems engineer. It cut his drive to Columbia to 10 minutes and his wife’s Silver Spring commute to 20 minutes. Though Stephanie, a data analytics medical professional, recently accepted a new job at George Washington University Hospital that lengthened her commute, she, like many other workers in Maple Lawn, takes advantage of an express bus that ferries her into the District.
There is also a county bus that takes children a mile away to the cul de sac that houses the elementary, middle and high schools.
But convenience is not Maple Lawn’s most notable feature.
Perhaps it’s simply that “this place just pops up out of nowhere,” said Shawn Conyers, a tennis coach with clients in Maple Lawn.
Drive along Route 29 — or any of the major arteries that connect to Maple Lawn, such as routes 32 and 216 or Interstate 95 — and it’s hard to believe that just beyond the stretch of traffic circles lies a new mixed-used community.
The architecture of the units varies in style but draws mostly from late-19th- and early-20th-century town planning. The streets are narrow, and the garages are behind the houses. There are elevators in some of the townhouses and condos. The landscaping is groomed and symmetrical, with 20,000 trees to be planted by the end of development in 2017.
For Carrie O’Connell, who moved to Maple Lawn from Chicago four years ago, the community’s look was enough for her to want to start the paperwork. “When I turned the corner into this place with my Realtor, I told her, ‘I don’t care what you get me, just get me something in this place,” said O’Connell, sitting on a stoop chatting with a neighbor after a workout.
The Iager family, which for generations farmed the land that became Maple Lawn, wouldn’t have it any other way. In 1839, Henry R. Jager bought an initial 108 acres of farmland for $500 after emigrating from Germany and Americanizing the spelling of his last name. On their farm, named after its maple trees, the Iagers raised cattle and chicken, among other things, and in 1939 began a turkey business, which remains a neighborhood draw. Today, the family still maintains the farm, which sits next to the community.
“You should see [the farm] a couple days before Thanksgiving,” said Boyd. “The cars are all lined up to get fresh turkeys,” just some of the 20,000 the farm sells each year.
The current owners — Charles, 69, and Judy, 67, who in the minds of many residents are local celebrities — encourage their neighbors to visit the farm, where Charles will gladly show off a century-old billhead.
Perhaps they want Maple Lawn residents to appreciate the history of this place: how the farm hosted international dignitaries and politicians; or, at the very least, how Howard County once maintained a robust agricultural community before the suburbanization of the 1960s.
The death of Charles’s father in 1987 was followed by an inrush of developers interested in the land. The Iagers liked Greenebaum & Rose’s plan best. “We wanted Maple Lawn to have everything it needed,” said Judy Iager.
And in 1997 the Iagers sold nearly 400 acres that they had accumulated over generations and watched a town rise from the dirt in eight years.
It is still rising. Construction is still very much underway, including a 110,000-square-foot office building. Developers are also planning nearly 800 homes for the residential district, and large patches of green space await five more office buildings and a hotel.
For now, residents see the grassy lots as a useful space to play sports or take their dogs — and everyone seems to have a dog in Maple Lawn.
For a town barely as old as Facebook, a sense of community is cementing. At the central park, when it’s warm and the sun is out, kids swing on the playground while mothers read books or socialize. Boys play basketball. A young girl takes a tennis lesson. Families ride bikes, and neighbors talk over wine while their kids play hockey by a garage.
Residents agree that the homeowners association is the heart of social life at Maple Lawn. “I love to throw a good party,” said Elaine Mealey, the community center’s manager.
If you’re a resident of Maple Lawn, you receive her e-mails multiple times a week. “They are constantly notifying us, because there’s always some kind of activity going on for different age groups,” said Marc Levin, a three- year resident and executive at Tai Sophia, a wellness school in Maple Lawn.
When Fred and Kathy DeMarco moved to Maple Lawn 18 months ago to downsize from their Ellicott City home after their four children were grown, they noticed there were many residents like them.
“The people who have dogs know each other, and there’s lots of activities for the kids,” said Fred, 66, a retired businessman. “But we don’t have dogs, and we wanted to get to know our neighbors.” So the DeMarcos organized a community group called the Empty Nesters that now has 70 members. They’ve hosted happy hours and a trip to a theater.
Many residents say they like the diversity of the community. A family from Ecuador lives on one side of the Boyds; a family from Greece lives on the other.
“It’s beautiful to watch the kids waiting for the bus in the morning, because it literally looks like the United Nations,” said Isabel Boyd, who was raised in Mozambique. “It was very important for us to expose [our daughter] to people with different backgrounds, and this community offers that.”