Eleven years after Baltimore County officials embraced Owings Mills as a new growth center that would accommodate some low- and middle-income housing, steps are finally being taken toward fulfilling the housing goal.
The county has a preliminary agreement with Ahmanson Developments Inc., the developers of Owings Mills New Town, that a specific plan for providing affordable housing will be agreed on before any more of the 5,400 housing units planned for the development get approval from the County Review Group. In addition, county Community Development Director Leslie M. Pittler said his agency now reviews all housing development plans submitted for Owings Mills.
The County Review Group is a two-person bureaucratic panel that makes sure that all developments meet county technical standards.
The agreement with Ahmanson, however, does not define "affordable housing," nor does it determine how the plan would be affected by a slowdown in the real estate market.
But even that small step came 11 years after officials conceived of Owings Mills including some below-market "affordable" housing and nearly one year after county planners cautioned County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen that 12,000 homes have already received preliminary conceptual approval for construction without any provision for moderate or low-income housing.
In 1979, the County Council designated Owings Mills as a site of future low-income housing only after pressure from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to find someplace for it. The council picked Owings Mills because it was then largely undeveloped and they feared controversy if low-income housing were proposed for established communities.
The recent agreement with Ahmanson is now a proposed amendment to the Planned Unit Development legislation for Owings Mills New Town. The planning board is to hold a public hearing Nov. 1 on that and other amendments to the PUD.
Charles Fitzgibbon, a spokesman for Ahmanson, said a specific affordable housing plan will be submitted to Pittler by mid-November.
Although Owings Mills New Town has already received overall CRG approval to be a Planned Unit Development, each individual builder's development within the PUD must now go back through the process. So far, four developments, totaling 526 units, have received CRG approval in Owings Mills New Town.
Only one project, a 109-unit town house project, is under construction. Building is to begin on another, a 136-unit condominium project by Bozutto and Associates of Greenbelt, which is the subject of a separate agreement, Pittler said.
The Bozutto project has agreed to reserve 20 units, or 15 percent, at prices that would make the buyers eligible to get lower interest rates -- mortgages with 8.5 percent interest through the state Community Development Administration.
Richard Boales, a partner in the firm, said that prices for these special units completed in 1991 would be no higher than $89,250. Rising expenses are making it difficult to keep within that ceiling, however, he said.
Pittler and Fitzgibbon said that any plan for affordable or low-income housing would have to be flexible enough to accommodate the different needs of builders and the varying market conditions.