Jack McLaurin of the Lessard Group describes Symphony Park as "a prototype of high-end, luxury townhomes in more of a European style."
Graphic courtesy: Michael Harris Homes

Symphony Park at Strathmore will have all the bells and whistles that come with luxury townhomes—spacious interiors, customizable gourmet kitchens, master suites and baths. But it’s not the bay windows and Juliet balconies that will set this Rockville community apart from the glut of high-end condos and townhomes currently languishing on the region’s real estate market.

Past the English gardens adorned with sculptures and fountains, just a five-minute walk through a grove of shade trees, Symphony Park residents will come upon the development’s namesake and inspiration: the Music Center at Strathmore, with its concerts, art exhibits, dance and yoga classes and other year-round cultural offerings.

The developer, Streetscape Partners, describes Symphony Park as an “integrated arts and residential community.”

During the summer, residents might throw open balcony doors and hear strains of Bach or Mozart wafting across the Strathmore’s lawn.They’ll also get a complimentary, three-year membership to Strathmore’s “Circles,” which normally would cost at least $2,500 a year, and includes access to the center’s members-only lounge, concierge ticket service and invitations to private receptions with the artists. The county-owned center hosts 160 live performances a year—everything from classical, country and rock ’n’ roll to India’s Nrityagram Dance Ensemble.

Priced at $1 million to $1.4 million (with pre-construction offers starting at $900,000), the town houses were designed by the Vienna, Va.-based Lessard Group, the architectural firm behind several other upscale townhome projects in the area, including The Brownstones at Park Potomac in Potomac. But Jack McLaurin, who manages Lessard’s single family and townhome department, sees this one as unique.

“It’s one of the last buildable open spaces in Montgomery County,” he says. And “we are trying to create a community that appeals to the patrons of the arts center and provide a home design that appeals to them. We think it will be a prototype of high-end, luxury townhomes in more of a European style.”

The units will be more London row house than Georgetown town house, McLaurin says, with paler façades, reverse gables and turret-style roofs. The builders have opted for molded brick, solid wrought-iron railings, cast-stone door and window frames and limestone steps.

Each four-story unit will measure 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, including a top-level loft and two rooftop terraces, one above the garage and another at loft level. Buyers can add an elevator, one of many options. The larger residences overlook private front gardens, as well as the communal garden spaces beyond. The roof terraces, meanwhile, overlook gardens and landscaped back lots.

The overall effect will be “a spacious feeling,” says McLaurin, who notes that the site plan was inherited from Centex, the Dallas-based homebuilder that abandoned its blueprints for the property in 2008 after the real estate market crashed. Centex had finalized the layout and won county zoning approval to build 112 townhomes on about half of the 18-acre site. The new developers kept the site plan, the number of units and even the name. For everything else, McLaurin says, they went back to the drawing board.

“We had the interests of Strathmore in mind in everything we did, and we engaged them in the process,” he says. For instance, designers nixed plans for terraces facing the concert hall out of respect for Strathmore patrons who might not want a view of residents’ rooftop parties. And “we don’t have a clubhouse, per se,” he says, “but we hope people will use the Strathmore to fulfill the same social needs.”

That’s also the hope of Eliot Pfanstiehl, Strathmore’s CEO. Pfanstiehl has been one of Symphony Park’s biggest supporters since the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) sold the parcel last May to Streetscape Partners, a newly formed venture that brings together two longtime local players: Virginia-based luxury builder Michael Harris Homes and former Federal Reality executive Ron Kaplan of Bethesda. The Philadelphia-based real estate investment firm, Lubert-Adler Partners, is providing financing.

“There’s nothing else like it that I know of,” Pfanstiehl says. “If you love the arts, you can’t do better than this.”

Pfanstiehl’s approval marks an about-face: In 2005, when ASHA announced that it had struck a deal with Centex, Pfanstiehl told The Washington Post he was “appalled” by plans to add housing so close to the concert hall, which the county had just opened next door to the 1899 Strathmore Mansion. The music center already was contending with complaints from nearby residents about the noise from its outdoor concerts.

When Centex walked away from a substantial deposit two years ago, several developers sought the property before Streetscape closed the deal. Its tweaks to the project are what won over Pfanstiehl.

Construction began in the summer of 2010. The units will be move-in ready by this summer, with pre-sales already under way.

In addition to offering 17 of the town houses at below market prices that correspond to the county’s affordable housing requirements, Streetscape will deed the county 5 acres containing an amphitheater and adjacent woods.

Real estate developers have long used cultural attractions as a lure for homebuyers. The Watergate’s distinctive, curved architecture was drawn up in the early 1960s to match the planned but later aborted designs for The Kennedy Center. More recently, Arts District Hyattsville features art galleries and artist studios, and Abdo Development plans an arts walk—a pedestrian footpath flanked by art galleries, artists’ studios, shops and eateries—to run down the center of the neighborhood it’s building around Catholic University in Northeast D.C.