In southern Frederick County, on the edge of the once-tiny rural town of Urbana and within sight of Sugarloaf Mountain, a big new piece of suburbia is under construction.

The Villages of Urbana, a 900-acre planned community that is in the third year of a decade-long build-out, is being promoted as a new version of small-town America, a mix of modern amenities and historic roots.

It is near shopping, schools, historic sites, recreation and, perhaps most important, I-270 and public transportation.

Although many might consider the Villages of Urbana a long haul from Washington, residents Elaine and Stephen Snyder say they like their morning commute to inside the Capital Beltway. Ditching their car at a nearby park-and-ride lot at 6:20 a.m., they hop a commuter bus to Metro's Red Line at Shady Grove.

On the train, Elaine, 55, reads the newspaper front to back. Stephen, 53, checks e-mail on his BlackBerry device until his stop at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where he is a research neuropathologist. Elaine arrives at Gallery Place near her Justice Department office by about 7:30 a.m.

"Both of us had commuted by car for years," Stephen said.

"This gives us a way to spend time together and to do so unstressed."

About 600 of the 3,000 planned homes at the Villages of Urbana are occupied. They are clustered in what will eventually be about 20 "villages" named for natural or historic features of the land, which is about three miles from Monocacy National Battlefield, site of an Civil War clash in 1864. Eventually, there are to be 2 million square feet of commercial space for stores and offices.

The developer, Natelli Communities of Bethesda, built Avenel and Lakelands in Montgomery County and Dearbought and Glenbrook in Frederick County.

The new development will dwarf old Urbana in population.

The main street of old Urbana stretches along Route 355. While most of Villages of Urbana runs along the eastern edge of the old town, some of the new development will be "cheek to jowl in terms of yards" to the old, said Tony Natelli, chairman of the development firm.

The new "main street" features houses with period facades that mimic the 19th-century houses on Route 355. The houses, clustered on smaller lots close to the streets, are to include back alleys for accessing garages, with restaurants and merchants within walking distance.

The villages' outskirts segue to suburbia, winding into quiet cul-de-sacs. Larger houses with sweeping front and back yards have a more rural, forested feel.

There are some distinctions between villages in terms of design, with each village having five builders, and the mix of single-family-detached houses vs. townhouses.

But Natelli said geography created most of the boundaries between the various villages, with residences on "the higher fingers of land surrounded by stream valleys."

At the Sugarloaf Parkway entrance to the Villages of Urbana stands the 1830s Dudderar House. The house, named for a family of 19th-century builders, retains most of its original woodwork and, amazingly, all of its original hand-blown-glass windows, said Doug Colley, property manager for Kiplinger Editors, which owns the former farmland upon which the new subdivisions are being built.

On Route 355, developers have rehabbed a store from the 1850s and a stone house from the 1830s, Colley said. A renovated private home became the Villages of Urbana field office.

"As various builders and contractors came to meet there, the fact that they were meeting in a building from the 1830s was not lost on them as far as historical import," he said.

Environmental sensitivity played a big part in the villages' design, according to Colley.

Because most of the property was flat farmland, what trees there were "became more important for us to try to save," he said.

The Village of Stuart's Hill, a neighborhood of single-family houses named after a Confederate general, boasts trees.

"That's why we picked this lot -- the woods," Elaine Snyder said.

The Snyders know the lush scenery behind their deck will not vanish because it is a protected Maryland reforestation area. Already, they have seen deer, foxes and chipmunks and will be backyard birding soon.

The couple spent years in urban areas, including the Bronx in New York, midtown Memphis and Catonsville, Md.

"Am I really going to live way out here?" Elaine Snyder said she wondered. "But I love it."

The community has residents young and old, and of a mix of racial backgrounds, "probably the most diverse neighborhood we've lived in besides New York," she said.

And for a community that did not exist until two years ago, it is surprisingly cohesive.

This summer, monthly concerts were held near the main entrance on Sugarloaf Parkway. The social committee has organized dance nights at the high school and seasonal tree lightings.

Evenings, the Snyders leave their two-story, 2,700-square-foot house to stroll through the villages. Although Stephen Snyder said "here, we feel safe," out of habit, he worries about the children who "seem to be everywhere out on bikes and playing in the streets."

"There are paths and sidewalks literally everywhere," Natelli said. "We wanted to tie it together so people can walk and bike as much as possible."

Flow, whether on foot or in a vehicle, is vital to the community. Even the planned relocation of Route 355, slightly to the east, has been designed with several roundabouts to slow and smooth traffic without stoplights.

The future Route 355, designed in cooperation with state highway officials, will accommodate a possible transit way, Natelli said, "starting with bus lanes and hopefully light rail someday."

On Hope Commons Circle in the Village of Lewis Mill, Donelle Zunker, 35, a director of sales training for Marriott, echoed the Snyders' preference for a woods-fringed back yard.

"It's peaceful, up-and-coming; everyone's friendly, everyone's nice," Zunker said, as she lugged her suitcases from sport-utility vehicle to townhouse. "You can tell by looking at their yards; you can see they care."

Zunker, her husband and their dog moved into an Ausherman townhouse in July 2001.

Convenience to work, plus the ability to customize her new home with wood floors, granite kitchen tops and special cabinets, sold her on the Villages of Urbana.

Zunker said she does not mind her commute to Bethesda, which takes 40 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. On weekends, she is "five minutes from Target," in the Riverview Plaza, just north of the Villages on Route 355, and from "all the chain stores and restaurants."

"The biggest weakness is they don't deliver pizza out here," she said.

Natelli's response: "That's coming in the Town Center."

Clockwise, from top left: Elaine and Stephen Snyder picked their property based on the woods behind their deck. Colorful flower beds adorn the front of Donelle Zunker's townhouse. A statue of Peter Pan stands outside the Cracked Claw, a local seafood restaurant.A house on Route 355 typifies the small-town feel that developers of the Villages of Urbana community hope to capture in southern Frederick County. The new suburban community will likely dwarf old Urbana in population.Although new communities abound in Frederick County, cows still graze in the area, such as this herd in a field next to Urbana High School.