When Charles Ports thinks about development in Owings Mills, he feels as if he's in front of a steamroller.
Development in the booming Owings Mills corridor is nothing new, he said.
The steamroller has been chugging along since 1984, when the community was designated by the County Council as an area that would be zoned for intense commercial and residential development.
But last week, it began to pick up speed.
Baltimore County planners granted preliminary approval Thursday to the first of three plans that could forever transform much of Owings Mills, including proposals for two lakefront office parks on 220 acres a quarter of a mile from Mr. Ports' home on Pleasant Hill Road.
"You just can't stop it, and my feeling is that eventually the development will run us over," said Mr. Ports, 67, a retired television engineer. The first of the three projects, an office park on a 68-acre tract owned by Dr. Stanley Friedler, an orthopedic surgeon, was approved Thursday by the County Review Group, an initial step toward securing construction permits.
The group, which is made up of a representative from the public works department and the planning department, makes sure that developments conform to zoning regulations.
The second project, known as Daniel Mills, is a 156-acre parcel that would be subdivided into 12 office-industrial lots, according to plans in the county public works office. The review group is to consider that proposal, for a parcel owned by Erwin Greenberg, at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Planners also are reviewing a proposal by the New Town Development Corp. for a 304-unit apartment complex on a tract a half-mile south of the planned office buildings.
Plans call for five apartment buildings on a 15-acre tract south of Lakeside Boulevard about a half-mile west of Painters Mill Road in Owings Mills New Town. The review group is to discuss that plan at 10 a.m. Oct. 31. The proposed 109-acre Red Run Lake would separate the office parks from Owings Mills New Town, a residential development of hundreds of homes.
John Maple, a county public works engineer, said last week that the county is still planning the $3.3 million lake despite a $26.8 million budget deficit.
The lake is needed to control flooding, he said, and county officials are only waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a permit for work to begin.
Proponents of the office projects say the lake will enhance their proposals and the surrounding community. "I think this is going to be a gem," said David S. Thaler, president of D. S. Thaler & Associates Inc., the engineering firm retained by the owners of both office-complex parcels.
Mr. Thaler said the office buildings could be "as tall as 10 stories" and could be an anchor for future commercial development.
"We could have another Towson out there," he said.
But he also said that plans are flexible and that the project could be considerably smaller.
County officials say construction on the Friedler tract probably is two to three years away.
They say additional reviews and public hearings are needed before construction begins on any office buildings.
Owings Mills has been designated as a growth area since 1984, when the County Council approved a plan to encourage the eventual construction of thousands of homes, dozens of office buildings and parks and shops in its 13,285 acres of gently rolling hills and valleys.
Since then, the area has been targeted for roughly $1 billion in projects for sewers, water lines, roads and schools.
By most accounts, the plan is working.
The area has become the site of prestigious housing developments and office complexes that boast an impressive list of tenants.
The Baltimore Life Insurance Co., T. Rowe Price, Lever Brothers and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have located offices in buildings constructed in the growth area.
"Development continues at impressive levels, driven by commercial expansion and relocation of businesses to Owings Mills," says a July 1991 report on progress in Owings Mills by the real estate consulting firm of Lipman Frizzell & Mitchell.
But that growth has come at a price for people like Mr. Ports, whose red cedar home was built 35 years ago when "these houses were the only things around." Residents cite increased traffic and the loss of their bucolic neighborhood as among the problems that have come with development.
Under the outline for the growth area, new apartments and single-family homes have been planned for the south side of the lake, while most of the office buildings and commercial developments are on the north side.
Mr. Ports' house is on the north side of the proposed lake -- so he and other area residents can look forward to having office buildings as neighbors.
Mr. Ports and his neighbors say they knew the growth was coming and are resigned to the fact that there is little they can do to stop it.
But that doesn't make it any easier to accept, particularly now that planners have submitted specific site plans for county approval.
"You feel a lot like you're being squeezed out," said Lou Knight, Mr. Ports' neighbor.