A 600-acre, golf-oriented development of homes priced from $150,000 to $250,000 is under way at Mitchellville, a former county crossroad that is now part of the suburbsspreading east in Prince George's County.
The Woodmore project, off Enterprise Road between Rte. 50 and Woodmore Road, surrounds the private Prince George's Country Club, which has tennis courts, a restaurant, a swimming pool and a 27-hole golf course designed by champion golfer Arnold Palmer.
If there is an image problem in building luxury-class houses in Prince George's, long known for its moderate-priced homes (the average price of houses sold last year was about $70,000), "I ignore it," said Guy Buckley, president of Arnold Palmer-Buckley Development Co. "All it means is that you have to work harder to achieve the same end."
Buckley acknowledges that Fairfax and Montgomery counties usually attract most high-income buyers looking for suburban homes, but contends that this is changing. Upper-price communities in Prince George's include Tantallon, located in the southern part of the county; University Park and College Heights Estates, both near the University of Maryland's College Park campus, and Enterprise Estates, off Enterprise Road. As these developments grow, other custom-home builders and high-income buyers will follow, Buckley believes.
The developer says he is ready for the rush. "I'm going to create the best-looking residential community in suburban Washington," he said. "People won't have to be coerced into living here."
The development is about 15 miles from Washington, near two Metro stops and Amtrak's Beltway station. To maintain the close-in, suburban setting, "we've bought the land around us to stabilize the urban sprawl," Buckley said. "And the county has made much of the other nearby land two-acre zoning" to control population growth, he added.
While there are more than a dozen golf-centered communities in the area, most notably Bethesda's Burning Tree, Palmer considers the Prince George's golf course one of the best in the East, Buckley said.
Palmer's Golf America has created more than 50 courses across the country. Palmer is also chairman of Palmer-Buckley and the majority shareholder in the separate corporation that owns the heavily-wooded Woodmore tract that once was farmland.
Buckley is an officer with the London firm of Miller Buckley, the largest golf course developer in Europe. He said he and Palmer joined forces a year ago.
Palmer will be at Woodmore next month to "officially open" sales, Buckley said, although two owner-built homes are already occupied.
Initial plans for the community call for 85 lakeside houses and 41 units around the tennis courts. There are also 96 undeveloped single-family plots priced from $60,000 to $90,000. When those houses and plots are sold, the remaining half of the tract may be developed.
Prince George's Country Club moved from Landover to Mitchellville in 1979 after agreement on a land-sale-and-swap arrangement was worked out with club members, the county, the owners of the Woodmore tract and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Woodmore residents will have the right to buy memberships in the club, Buckley said, and if they elect to join, they will not pay initiation fees.
The country club's 60-acre lake and golf course are nearly completed: Palmer dedicated the course and played an exhibition match when the first 18 holes in the course were opened last May. Although the club is a seperate entity, its development is crucial to Woodmore's success, Buckley said, so he has helped solve several design and construction problems there, he said.
The lake has been stocked with 100,000 fish and Buckley is bringing in water fowl. "I ordered six swans," he said, "just like you order bricks."
Woodmore's "perceived image is the key to success," Buckley said, and "attention to detail is the difference between success and failure." To that end, Palmer Buckley management will control all phases of the development. "We have extremely rigid covenants here," covering property specifications ranging from landscaping to exterior paint colors, he said. Those wishing to make changes in their Woodmore-built homes will need approval from an architectural review board, Buckley said.
Lot owners, as well, must get approval from the review board once they are ready to build, he said. Minimum requirements call for 2,500 square feet of living space in addition to a two-car garage.
With the onset of warm weather, work has been progressing steadily, Buckley said. Six semi-detached homes with basements and balconies are under construction around the lake, and work is set to begin next month on a complex of smaller, attached homes sited around the country club's tennis courts. A model single-family home of stone and cedar is nearing completion.
Palmer will own a custom home on a prime lot, but it is unlikely he will live there, Buckley said. When the large, manor house is completed, it probably will be rented, he said.