The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A village becomes the Villages in the fast-growing area of Urbana, Md.

The Villages of Urbana, developed by Natelli Communities, are advertised as a slice of small-town Americana on the banks of the Monocacy River and in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

When Rusty Austin moved to the Villages of Urbana, a sprawling suburb in southern Frederick County in 2001, the area was still very much a work in progress.

“It was literally a field of nothing,” he said. The real estate agent who showed him around needed an SUV to navigate the neighborhood’s then-dirt roads. “At nighttime, I mean, it was totally black. . . . If we didn’t turn on our lights, you wouldn’t even know there was a house here, it was just so dark.”

At first, this rural section of Frederick County seemed leagues away from Austin’s previous home in Montgomery County, but he said the Villages’ large lots and affordability made sense for his growing family.

“When we moved in, there was a 7-Eleven and a pizza joint and that was it in terms of, you know, buying food,” he said.

Today, this part of the county no longer seems so remote. The development’s expansion since its founding in the late 1990s has swelled the surrounding community of Urbana, bringing new businesses, shopping centers and grocery chains to the area.

“We have a Starbucks and a McDonald’s, so that makes us a real town,” Austin joked.

The Villages of Urbana, developed by Natelli Communities, are advertised as a slice of small-town Americana on the banks of the Monocacy River and in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain. The neighborhood is a collection of 26 villages, including an age-restricted section for residents 55 and older and two condo buildings, according to Aimee Winegar, the Villages’ general manager.

Two elementary schools have opened in the area since Austin’s arrival, and a third, Urbana Elementary, has been renovated, reflecting the growing number of families flocking to the area.

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Despite the Villages’ rapid growth, it seems new homes can’t be built fast enough.

“We are selling between 80 and 100 units per year,” said Winegar. “One every three days, basically.”

Two new sections, Stone Barn Villages and Worthington Square, are under construction, and Winegar says that most units in Worthington Square have already sold.

“Demand is exceptionally high and inventory, particularly on resales, is exceptionally low,” said Stacy Delisle, a resident and real estate agent with Impact Maryland Real Estate.

Different builders have constructed thevarious sections of Villages, resulting in a mix of styles, including single-family homes and townhouses.

“Having the design and the craftsmanship of so many different prospective builders in here keeps everything from looking completely cookie-cutter,” said Delisle.

In 2015, Delisle traded her Urbana townhouse for a roomy single-family home in another part of the county. But less than a year later, she and her family returned.

Delisle said that without that sense of a built-in community, the new house — with its gourmet kitchen and white picket fence — felt lacking. “We sold our dream house on the other side of the county to move back here,” she said, “so when I tell you that we absolutely love it here, we do.”

Residents come together for block parties and holiday gatherings, and at the community’s large parks and two recreational centers — complete with swimming pools, basketball courts, tennis courts, fitness centers and a lazy river. A third center is slated to open in time for the summer of 2022.

But some think the new development is crowding out the old Urbana, what Mary Mannix, vice president of Frederick County Landmarks Foundation, called “a village with a small ‘v’.”

Urbana was once a crossroads, said Mannix. It was a sparsely populated farming community at the intersection of today’s Route 80 and Georgetown Pike — now Route 355 — a roadway that connected Frederick to Georgetown.

One of the oldest structures in Urbana, the Stancioff House, was also a place of crossings. It’s said to have begun its life as a silk farm on the Rappahannock River and was transported to Urbana in 1847 for use as a seminary. Also known as the Landon House, the building became a place of respite for Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and dueling graffiti scratched out with burned sticks still adorns the walls.

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David Key, an Urbana native, used to mow the grass for the Stancioff family as a young man and has watched the area change from a rural hamlet to a heavily developed suburb at a breakneck pace. His family moved to Urbana in the late 1940s, when his father took a job on the Monocacy Farm, now the Worthington golf course.

“When I was younger, there was nothing but fields. Now, all you see is rooftops,” he said describing the scene near his home.

Natelli Communities has preserved many historic structures in Urbana, including the oldest house in southern Frederick, called Fat Oxen, now used as a community clubhouse. But it’s also transformed farmland into suburbia, a village into the Villages.

There’s a tension, said Mannix, between witnessing farmland vanish and “seeing these people start a new life in a beautiful community.”

Living there: The Villages of Urbana are roughly bounded by Tabler Road and Ball Road to the north, Route 80 (Fingerboard Road) to the south, Route 355 and Interstate 270 to the southwest and west, and Ijamsville Road to the east. There are 10 homes for sale in the Villages of Urbana, ranging from a two-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse listed for $419,990 to a four-bedroom, four-bathroom Craftsman for $884,990. Last year, the highest-priced home sold was a five-bedroom, six-bathroom Colonial listed for $865,000. The lowest was a two-bedroom, three-bathroom condo listed at $275,000. The average price of homes sold last year was $486,541.

Schools: Sugarloaf, Centerville and Urbana Elementary; Urbana Middle and Urbana High. The community is near Interstate 270 and Route 355. MARC commuter trains stop at the Monocacy Station, about 10 minutes away.

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