- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

With a revitalized downtown business district, the city of Cambridge in Dorchester County is positioned to reap the benefits of a growing economy and a vibrant housing market.

One of Maryland’s oldest towns, Cambridge frequently welcomes tourists. And why not? Visitors have often become new residents, lured by the small port city’s relaxed lifestyle on the Choptank River and Cambridge Creek.

In 1990, the downtown area was designated a historical district. Boutiques and art galleries have found their way into stately storefronts on Main Street, where many classic older buildings have been restored to pay tribute to a bygone era while adding charm to the city streets.

Downtown streets now sport period lighting and fresh plantings. One-of-a-kind shops have opened to offer everything from antiques and jewelry to home decor and gourmet foods, according to Cambridge Main Street, a nonprofit organization formed as part of a comprehensive downtown revitalization process created by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

“A lot of people want to be a part of the revival and right now can be a part of what we are going to become,” says Valerie Brown, a Realtor with Charles C. Powell Realty Inc. in Cambridge.

When a January fire ravaged several downtown buildings, residents pulled together with fundraisers, rallies and festivals to ensure that Cambridge continues its revitalization efforts.

Gov. Martin O’Malley recently toured the downtown area and announced $278,000 in state aid to help rebuild burned, historic storefronts on Race Street downtown.

City officials say downtown Cambridge was struggling five years ago, but new business arrivals include three restaurants, an art gallery, a spa and a planned new Dorchester Arts Center. The infusion of business combines with historic rehabilitation projects to contribute to the growing popularity of downtown.

Located 87 miles from the District, Cambridge attracts many people from more urban areas.

“It’s the ‘land of pleasant living’ that draws people to Cambridge and Dorchester County,” says Julie Fox, broker and owner of RE/MAX on the Bay in Cambridge. “We are a small community of people with very diverse occupations from watermen to former corporate executives. Our way of life is less slow, less harried, and yet there is so much to do here.”

“Watermen” is the regional term for people who earn their living from the Chesapeake Bay, traditionally through fishing, crabbing or oystering.

Ms. Fox says families with young and teenage children come from the “Western Shore” — the region’s term for the rest of Maryland on the other side of the bay — for a simpler way of life and to reconnect with nature.

While Ms. Powell said that Cambridge’s waterfront is a big draw for buyers, there is a wide enough variety of housing options throughout the city, on or off the water, to meet various tastes and budgets.

The housing in Cambridge is affordable in comparison to prices on the Western Shore, Ms. Fox says. The median selling price of owner-occupied properties in Dorchester County was $214,000 for 2007, according to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

One of the fastest-growing neighborhoods is Longboat Estates, a water-access community just off the Choptank River on Jenkins Creek, Ms. Fox says.

Longboat Estates, a single-family home community near Cambridge, is being developed by Lennar Corp. (www.lennar. com). Each home comes with a first-floor master bedroom and two-car garage.

Buyers can select from the Executive, Garden and Cape Cod collection of homes. Prices range from $259,990 to $359,990. The smallest model is the Augusta, and it comes with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Beazer Homes Corp. is building elevator condominiums and town homes in the Deep Harbour community on Cambridge Creek. The condominiums offer two-bedroom, one-level living and the floor plans average about 1,650 square feet. Prices range from $224,990 to $400,990.

The community has a pool and private marina with more than 50 boat slips. The town homes feature a two-car garage and can include a covered front porch and large deck for outdoor living.

Fort Maier Homes LLC (www.fortmaier.com) is building 109 town homes at Pintail Landing priced from $167,990 to $186,900. Buyers can purchase homes with two, three or four bedrooms. The largest has 2,000 square feet of living space.

Richmond American Homes Inc. (www.richmondamerican. com) is building single-family houses at Blackwater Landing in Cambridge. One of the largest models is the Van Buren at 2,400 square feet, with an angled two-story foyer and a loft overlooking the foyer. Homes in the development are selling for $262,990 to $330,545.

The small community of Blackwater Cove by K. Hovnanian Homes (www.khov. com) will have 21 homes, once completed. Three homes are available for a quick move-in, including two 2,148-square-foot Dakota models offered at $293,000 and $299,000 and the Maryland II model offered at $385,000 that comes with a library and main-level laundry room.

Town homes and single-family homes are available at Cattail Crossing by Richland Homes Web (www.rlhomes.com). The three-level town homes start in the low $200,000s and feature 9-foot ceilings on the basement and main level, a bath with a tub and separate shower, and a one-car garage. Cattail Crossing offers five floor plans and several exterior finishes.

The single-family home development of the Crossings at East New Market is a short drive from Cambridge in Dorchester County, where single-family homes start at $209,900. Apple Tree Homes Inc. (www. appletreehomes.com) is offering several models. The largest, the Elizabeth, has four bedrooms, a large family room and an optional wraparound front porch.

Ms. Fox says the region has a growing number of second-home residents.

“Our second-home owners come year-round, so there is no big influx of summer residents,” she says. “Most who come on weekends extend it to Thursday through Monday, or telecommute.”

Cambridge is the largest city in the county as well as the county seat. The Dorchester County Tourism Department reports that Cambridge has a rich maritime heritage that can be explored in museums, through historic district tours and river cruises.

While Cambridge is popular city, the tourism office also touts quaint towns such as Church Creek, Hurlock, East New Market and sister communities Brookview and Eldorado, as places worth exploring that are spread out throughout the county. Outlying traditional fishing villages at Hoopers Island and Taylors Island are well worth visiting.

Growing tourism in the Cambridge area led Hyatt to build its luxury Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in 2001. This hotel functions as a golf resort, spa and marina. It also has a children’s recreation center.

The Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, comprising wetlands, offers visitors the opportunity to get close to the wildlife and waterfowl. It offers education programs and trails.

Sailwinds Park is a popular attraction for residents, as this year-round event venue hosts concerts and festivals.

Having lived in a semi-urban area and worked in a larger city in Pennsylvania for more than 20 years, Ms. Fox says the bay and opportunities to sail lured her family to the Eastern Shore.

“Our main reason for moving pre-retirement was that the people are so friendly and welcoming. We all wave to one another when out on the many country roads,” Ms. Fox says.

Ms. Brown agrees.

“It’s a very small-town feel,” she says. “Everyone knows everyone down here.”

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