Developers Threaten To Drop Odenton Town Center Plans

October 01, 1990|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

The concept of Odenton's Town Center could die in the minds of developers tonight before formal plans for the project are ever drawn up.

If the County Council changes a town center growth control bill tonight, developers warn, plans for office buildings, shopping centers, cinemas and hotels on a 218-acre site off Route 32 could dissolve.

County Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville, said the council should delay action on the bill to prevent a deal between a major developer and the state from falling through -- a deal that would bring a MARC train station to Town Center.

If that deal collapses, he said, there may not be any incentive for developers to go through with plans to build the county's third town center, which would serve families expected to move into 15,000 new homes in the area by the year 2000.

The committee considering the bill adopted amendments last Thursday at their final meeting that would place further restrictions on developers.

Three developers who are members of the committee voted against the amendments, saying the vote was premature. If the council accepts the amendments at tonight's public hearing, it could vote on the entire package as early as Oct. 15.

The developers say they will show up at the council meeting to ask for more time. Boschert, the bill's sponsor, said he will propose delaying the growth controls on the 218-acre parcel for six months.

Under Boschert's proposal, growth controls would go into effect immediately on the periphery of town center, but would be delayed for at least six months on the actual 218-acre town center parcel.

Boschert's proposal left many committee members irate, and some charged him with selling out to developers. The committee was given 45 days by County Executive O. James Lighthizer to propose amendments to the bill, but finished its work 11 days early.

"This committee has worked hard and diligently to come up with what I think is a very good bill," said Pat Wellford, a committee member and president of the Odenton Improvement Association. "Since Councilman Boschert is a sponsor of this bill, we would hope that he would support the committee's work."

Committee members say developers are balking at the amendments because they would require them to address adequate facilities -- such as paying for road and sewer upgrades -- and do environmental impact studies, which aren't required under current town center zoning regulations.

The amendments also would limit the height of buildings to eight stories -- four stories for buildings on the periphery -- and would restrict building density to a quarter of what is now allowed.

Residents say they want to avoid what happened in Parole, the county's other town center, which is burdened with gridlock traffic and frequently is cited as the county's worst example of suburban sprawl by county officials.

"We are not taking an adversarial position," said Odenton resident Sally Shoemaker, a member of the committee. "We are dealing with reputable developers. We want to make sure their developments are in harmony with what the community wants.

"It would be very sad if this bill could not move forward," she said.

"Further discussions are counter-productive. We have procrastinated for 20 years. The longer period you have, the longer you can procrastinate."

Wellford said a moratorium is dangerous because even though actual development won't start on the town center property for at least two years, developers are already pouring money into studies.

She cited the Osprey company, which owns the southern part of the property and is planning to build office buildings and movie theaters. She said the company told the committee it has already poured $400,000 into a traffic study and has just obtained a permit from the state for an access road off Route 32.

So the committee added an amendment exempting Osprey from providing additional facilities in that area. Wellford said a six-month delay could open the door for other developers to do the same thing, which would erode the bill's intentions.

Members complained that Boschert did not give specific reasons for delaying the growth controls, which they said led to speculation that the councilman really wasn't behind the bill.

In an interview Friday, Boschert admitted he upset committee members and said he did not fully explain his reasons for the proposal, which he said is to ensure that a deal doesn't fall through that would bring a train station to the area.

The Halle Co. wants to build an intersection on Route 32 that would link its Seven Oaks housing project to Town Center. Halle owns 90 acres of town center land.

The state has been hesitant to accept Halle's offer, under which Halle would donate land for the train station and build access roads, in exchange for $12.5 million for a parcel of land the state needs to upgrade Route 32 and permission to build the interchange.

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