Developer says controls imperil project

October 22, 1990|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

For more than a few people in Odenton, the future looks like a different boom town than the one to which they're accustomed.

A developer's proposal in the northwestern Anne Arundel County community called for a new town center and its own train station. Commuters would disembark for a short shuttle ride to their nearby high-rise office buildings or a stroll to the new, glitzy mall.

These days, however, the only "boom town" of which residents can be certain is the strip along Md. 175, known by that nickname for years as its tattoo parlors and pool halls catered to generations of servicemen from nearby Fort Meade.

A decision by the Anne Arundel County Council last week to impose strict growth controls in the town center area has apparently angered a Silver Spring developer, who now threatens to scuttle all or portions of the proposed 218-acre commercial project.

"If town center is never built, I couldn't care less," said Stephen N. Fleischman, vice president at Halle Development Inc., which owns the bulk of town center property and is developing the adjacent 4,700-home Seven Oaks residential area.

Fleischman said his company will not follow through on its previous offer to donate land for a train station or to construct ramps off Md. 32 at town center.

Those two ingredients are considered crucial because they would provide commuter access by rail and car directly to town center, theoretically alleviating gridlock along the heavily traveled Md. 175.

But Robert Agee, an aide to County Executive O. James Lighthizer, scoffed at Fleischman's comments, noting that to deliver on the threats would only jeopardize Halle's project.

"What am I supposed to do if someone wants to smash the back windows of their own car because of something I did," Agee offered as an analogy to Fleischman's comments. "I can't prevent someone from vandalizing their own car."

Officials in the Lighthizer administration said they remain convinced that the Odenton town center project will proceed on the county's terms, with or without Halle.

Solving area traffic problems has been a major reason behind the push for town centers, such as Columbia, Owings Mills or White Marsh, in the region's suburban counties. And Lighthizer adds that developers like town centers because they make money.

The Baltimore Regional Council of Governments and many local jurisdictions -- including Anne Arundel -- have endorsed the concept of higher density developments linked with adequate public transportation services. Odenton has been earmarked for such a town center since the early 1970s.

David Boschert, the Anne Arundel councilman who represents Odenton and who fought against the growth controls approved last week, said he was fighting to save the Halle project because he believes it could become a model for town center development in the state.

Still, tensions between developers and citizens are running high, said Jack Anderson, the regional council's assistant director of development planning.

"The danger is that sometimes a project just ends up being a big shopping center and some of the ingredients that would make it work aren't there," he said.

In the Odenton case, Fleischman said, Halle will no longer follow through on all elements of the project because the county's growth control limitations make it impossible to build a profitable town center. He cited as the largest problems the county's demands for a certain percentage of green space around every building in town center and tight restrictions on developing near wetlands.

If his company decides to build anything on the property, it will be greatly scaled down from the original proposal, he said.

Most of Fleischman's anger was directed at Lighthizer, whom Fleischman said pushed the growth-control bill through the County Council for his own political gain.

Lighthizer, who is in the remaining weeks of his final term as county executive, has become known for his management of growth in Anne Arundel. Fleischman contended that Lighthizer, sometimes rumored for a future gubernatorial bid, was trying to win some final points among growth-control advocates.

"The citizens of Odenton are going to wake up one day and realize the gift that he gave them, which is nothing," said an angry Fleischman, who added that "Lighthizer will learn that paybacks are hell."

Fleischman did not elaborate.

Lighthizer seemed surprised by the threat, and denied he pushed the growth controls for political gain.

"That's poppycock," he said. "I have an obligation to, in a timely fashion, deal with growth. And for me to walk away from that one section of the county would be wrong."

Odenton was the only remaining commercial parcel in the county that had yet to have growth controls imposed, officials said. The County Council now has nine months to approve legislation to carry out the initiatives approved in the plan. Opponents are viewing those nine months as an opportunity to push for revisions.

Boschert said he will not give up on a town center for Odenton and is hoping for a County Council and executive who will act favorably toward the project after the Nov. 6 election.

While the standoff is unusually tense, county officials suggested that the heat will soon dissipate.

Said Lighthizer aide Jeffrey Stone, noting the parcel's strategic location in the county, "Whether it's Mr. Halle or Donald Trump, someone is going to come in and do a hell of a development there."

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