Amid housing slowdown, community prospers with midpriced homes


August 16, 1992|By Audrey Haar | Audrey Haar,Staff Writer

The Baltimore housing market may be down in the dumps, but Owings Mills is flying high.

Owings Mills New Town is a high-profile planned-unit community, with a mix of office buildings and upscale shopping that can draw people from the entire region, not just the northwest corridor. In addition, much of the development in Owings Mills in recent years has focused on moderately priced condominiums and town houses, which have weathered the recession well.

"I am bullish on Owings Mills New Town and corridor," said Bob Lefenfeld, vice president of the Legg Mason Realty Group in Baltimore. "The market is acknowledging the wisdom of that development" with better-than-average sales.

The Legg Mason Housing Market Profiles report ranks the Owings Mills area seventh most active in the Baltimore area during the first half of the year for sales of new homes in subdivisions of 20 units or more.

Not that the area is without problems. The strategy behind Owings Mills was to lure businesses and workers, then to build homes. But with a glut of office space in the metropolitan area, commercial development may soon stall, and residential development likely would suffer.

"Owings Mills was one of the first growth areas where office and employment came first," said M. Ronald Lipman, a partner in the real estate consulting firm Lipman Frizzell & Mitchel, which produces an annual analysis of the Owings Mills market.

Housing is still in demand, mostly because of employment in the area, Mr. Lipman said. But he says there may be trouble ahead, as problems in commercial real estate finally affect the Owings Mills residential market. Mr. Lipman noted that there is less home construction starting in Owings Mills. Though construction often begins long after building permits are obtained, permits for the Owings Mills area peaked in 1990 with 1,421 issued. Permits fell to 531 last year, and 367 permits were issued the first half of 1992.

The expected employment growth in Owings Mills was revised down 40 percent from last year's estimates of 85,000 people working in office and retail. And combined square footage for retail and commercial space, which increased almost 40 percent in 1990 and 1991, grew only 2.93 percent in the first half of 1992, according to the Lipman Frizzell & Mitchel report.

Plans for a 100-acre man-made lake -- which was to be the focal point for the Owings Mills area -- were killed because of environmental concerns.

Several office developments slated for Owings Mills are on hold because of the areawide surplus of office space, and there are proposals to rezone what was to be a Trammell Crow office building at Red Run and Owings Mills boulevards to allow a Sam's Club warehouse retail outlet a stone's throw from the mall at Owings Mills.

Jack Dillon, senior planner for the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning, said his office did not recommend the zoning change, and would prefer to see discount retail stores located with other retail stores on the Reisterstown and Liberty Road corridors.

Some businesses in the area are concerned about converting an office development project into a discount retail store across the street from an upscale shopping mall.

The county will hold hearings on the proposed zoning change next month, and the County Council is expected to decide in October.

C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, the 3rd District councilman representing the Hunt Valley, Reisterstown, Owings Mills and Cockeysville areas of Baltimore County, said he does not want to overreact to slow market conditions and is awaiting results of a feasibility study of the area before he announces his recommendation for the site.

But Owings Mills is still a big draw for homeowners because it is near the Metro and the I-795 Northwest Expressway, which links Owings Mills with the Baltimore Beltway.

The Lipman Frizzell & Mitchel report notes that entry-level housing has flourished in Owings Mills because of earlier employment growth and low interest rates for mortgages.

To help put middle-income families into new homes, Baltimore County provided $150,000 in federal block grant money. The money will supplement $300,000 from Owings Mills New Town's developer, Ahmanson Developments Inc., to provide up to $15,000 per home to help middle-income families pay the down payment and closing costs on a new home in Owings Mills New Town.

The funds will be in the form of second mortgages on Federal Housing Administration first mortgages that need only be repaid when the house is sold.

Families can apply for the county portion of the funds with a maximum income of $24,350 for one person and up to $49,950 for a family of eight. The developer-sponsored money will be available for a family of any size earning up to $39,600, which is 90 percent of the median household income in Baltimore County.

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