On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, Hanover resident Myron Brown exited the garage of his three-story brick house. He crossed the front yard and walked around the side to the back with his "landscaper" in tow -- an uncle who drove up from Fort Washington to help the 33-year-old manage the details of his first house.
Brown and his wife, Shadey (pronounced sha-DAY), moved to Hawks Ridge, a subdivision of new houses less than a mile from Hanover's Arundel Mills Mall, last June.
They are still getting used to homeownership, but say their house and its neighborhood are among the best choices they ever made. It's a quiet area, but close to Anne Arundel County's major highways. Their neighbors have become some of their best friends.
This isn't where they thought they would be at this point. Two years ago, when they were engaged and house-hunting, they didn't believe they would be able to afford a newly built single-family house.
"We were originally thinking of moving into a townhouse or an older fixer-upper," said Myron Brown, a Baltimore lawyer. He and his wife, a Washington lawyer, contracted to buy their house in 2002 for about $320,000. At 2,700 square feet, it's one of the smallest in the neighborhood. "We just came over here to look and we noticed that the homes were selling for only a few thousand more than some of the townhouses we looked at," Myron Brown said.
The Browns, like the 27 other families in the small, two-year-old community of Hawks Ridge, spend warm weekend afternoons putting down mulch, planting perennials and re-seeding their grass.
Their subdivision is one of four upper-middle class communities that have popped up recently in Hanover, a section of Anne Arundel County that, until Arundel Mills opened in 2000, was often referred to simply as the county's "back end."
But developers are tapping into Hanover's marketable resources -- its proximity to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and to major highways such as Interstate 95, as well as its burgeoning business and job development -- and families like the Browns are taking advantage it.
"It's a combination of things that are occurring in that area," said Joe Rutter, an Anne Arundel County Planning and Zoning officer. "The economic base, because of the airport and the defense industry, is becoming greater. . . . That area is really going to help support a lot of economic development in Anne Arundel County."
Hanover, nestled between Route 176 to the south and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the north, now has a mega-mall, expensive restaurants, a gourmet Safeway, a Starbucks and a Chevy Chase Bank.
There are also plans to build more industrial complexes near Baltimore-Washington International Airport and retail stores around Arundel Mills, Rutter said. A Hampton Inn and Suites and Residence Inn are already open on Arundel Mills Circle, but developers are pitching more hotels.
Bill Utz, an Arnold-based home builder, is one of eight developers who has proposed a project to the county for the Hanover area. His company wants to build 25 single-family houses on the east side of Arundel Mills.
Baldwin Homes, another Arnold-based company, is hoping to build 15 single-family houses in the area.
"Arundel Mills has certainly raised the bar," said Michael Baldwin, founder of Baldwin Homes. "Route 100 has improved access. It's become a very desirable place to live."
Ryan Homes, the developer of Hawks Ridge, also built the adjoining communities of Ridge Forest Glen and Ridge Forest. Ridge Forest Glen, the newest of the three, will consist of 63 single-family houses, many of which have already been sold. Hawks Ridge sold out of its 28 lots in less than a year.
Ryan Homes, along with NVHomes, is also building single-family houses and townhouses in the Villages of Dorchester, a community stretched along the new Arundel Mills Boulevard, near Jessup. Ryan Homes has already sold 95 single-family homes in the Villages, which is west of Arundel Mills Mall.
Both Ryan and NVHomes are selling townhouses in the area starting in the low $300,000s. Ryan Homes plans to build about 784 units in all.
The best thing about living in Hanover is its "location, location, location," said Donna Stramella, who moved into Hawks Ridge last year. The Defense Department worker heard about the neighborhood from a friend who lived in Ridge Forest.
She moved to Hanover from Glen Burnie. Donna Stramella, her husband, Tony, (who also works for the Defense Department) and their two teenage daughters (who attend private school in Baltimore) lived in Glen Burnie's Shannon Square neighborhood for years.
"It only makes sense that these neighborhoods be built here," Tony said of Hanover's quick development. "Fort Meade is the largest employer in Maryland. A lot of the people who live in this neighborhood work for the Department of Defense."
The couple looked for homes in Elkridge, but opted for the convenience of Hanover. "We have Safeway right there," Donna Stramella said. "I'm closer to Fort Meade. It's a very well organized community."
Hanover's location was also important to the Browns.
Every weekday morning, Myron makes a 25-minute commute to Baltimore, where he runs his own law practice. Shadey drives five minutes to BWI to catch the MARC train into Washington.
After looking in both Montgomery and Howard counties, the Browns decided that Hanover offered the easiest commute for both of them. The houses, they said, were of the same caliber as those they saw in Montgomery and Howard counties. But, according to Victor Furnells, the Washington director of the Meyers Group, a housing industry market research firm, Hanover houses sell for significantly less.
"Anne Arundel County is just one of those untapped resources," Furnells said. "You've got Baltimore about 30 minutes to the north, Washington D.C., to the south. Annapolis is right down the street. People are finally starting to realize how valuable of a resource it is."