Where We Live

A Break From the Yard in Suburban Maple Lawn

Prasad Karunakaran, left, chats with neighbor Pradeep Sinha in the Maple Lawn community.
Prasad Karunakaran, left, chats with neighbor Pradeep Sinha in the Maple Lawn community. (By Andrew Glaros For The Washington Post)
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By Tony Glaros
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 12, 2008

When Prassad Karunakaran lived on a half-acre in Sykesville, northwest of Baltimore, tending to his spread came with the mortgage. Over time, the novelty of mowing turned into plain drudgery.

"Cutting the grass was a nightmare," he recalled. "You try to spend weekends with your family, and you end up doing all these chores."

Eventually Karunakaran set out to simplify his life. He went house-hunting in Rockville and Gaithersburg, but he was turned off by the congestion. Someone suggested he check out a new, mixed-use community in southwest Howard County called Maple Lawn. He liked what he saw and bought a single-family house on just an eighth of an acre. "This morning, I cut the grass in 10 minutes," he said cheerily from the steps of his wind-powered house. Karunakaran buys electricity from Rockville-based Clear Currents, which generates much of its power on wind farms in Texas and the Midwest.

Karunakaran, 40, a government contractor, boosted his quality of life in another way. His office is less than a mile away in downtown Maple Lawn, which is made up of a handful of low-rise office buildings. Tenants include lawyers and financial service firms. With the soaring price of gasoline, the idea that he can walk to work in 15 minutes is satisfying, he said. He's even considering asking the staff at the homeowners association to install a bicycle rack outside his office building.

There's plenty to like about Maple Lawn, said Sharada Karunakaran, 39, a certified public accountant for her husband's business. "I like the concept. It's very mixed," she said. "There are retired people whose children are gone, and there are married couples with no kids. And the ethnicity is amazing."

Since 2004, Maple Lawn has been taking shape in semirural Fulton, two miles north of Burtonsville off Route 29. The neighborhood follows popular "neotraditional" design principles, sometimes called new urbanism. Such neighborhoods aim to recreate an old-fashioned, small-town feel in new suburban areas.

Maple Lawn's neighborhoods, many of them tree-lined, are made up of small blocks woven together to promote walking and interacting. Homes are a mix of sizes and types. The business district is young, but there's an ever-growing list of retailers, including a tapas bar, ice cream parlor and small specialty stores such as lingerie shop Bra-la-la.

At the Daily Grind, a franchise coffee shop, owner Sophie Bradford, 43, said her business has grown in fits and starts since opening two years ago.

"Maple Lawn is an excellent concept, but it's still very new," she said as a late-morning line formed. To create more awareness after dark, Bradford sponsors Family Game Night on the third Friday of each month. "During August, we'll have it every Friday night," she said. It brings together parents and children who play board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly.

This fall, she plans to reopen the store at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and offer "specialty drinks, live entertainment and gourmet desserts." The focus will be on adults searching for lighter fare. "You might be up late working on taxes. Parents can put their kids to bed and have a cup of coffee."

Plans call for more than 1,300 homes -- single-family houses, townhouses, multifamily condominiums and rentals. So far, 219 have sold, said Denise Shrader of Re/Max Advantage Realty in Maple Lawn. "The people are moving here because of the attractive location" near Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis "and the lack of large lots to maintain."

Given the sluggish real estate market around the region, she said, "I think the builders have made some adjustments and are continuing to sell. In spring and summer, there are typically more sales than in fall and winter."

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