Developer proposes 'Main Street' complex on Rt. 108 Kurz's plan would include office buildings, shops

rezoning request filed

September 30, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Howard County could have another Main Street if the plans of a Baltimore developer for a parcel of land on Route 108 are approved.

Christopher Kurz has filed a request with the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning to rezone 20.5 acres of the old University of Maryland Horse Research Center to construct four office buildings with shops and restaurants on their first floors.

The plan entails building the office complex around a "Main Street" that would bisect the parcel and offer parallel parking, gazebos and park benches -- somewhat like Main Street in Ellicott City, four miles away.

"It's very similar to being in downtown Annapolis or downtown Frederick," said Kurz, president and chief executive officer of Linden Associates Inc., which proposed the idea. "We're trying to re-create the small-town atmosphere."

The concept is similar to a number of recent planned community retail centers -- such as the Reston Town Center in Fairfax, Va., where office buildings, restaurants and upscale shopping surround a single thoroughfare. The old-fashioned main-street concept contrasts with the village center design that was in vogue when the Rouse Co. developed Columbia.

The project -- which is between Columbia and Ellicott City -- has sparked the interest of county planners.

"He's definitely trying to do something different from the standard office park," said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning. "I think it will distinguish itself from other products."

But the idea has split community members, some of whom question the need for an office complex in a residential area.

"They've got plenty of room in Columbia where they have office buildings," said Leroy Lydard, who lives in nearby Montgomery Knolls. "I don't know why they want to come up here and encroach on the residential areas."

Added Karlen Murray, who lives less than a mile west of the proposed site on Route 108: "When we first moved in, we thought that it was so beautiful to have a farm there, but we also understood from day one it could go. But I would much rather see it stay rural."

Henry Dagenais, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board, agreed, but he noted: "[Staying rural] is out of the question. In lieu of that, we generally found acceptable what they are planning to do there."

The land is owned by the University of Maryland, which has reached a verbal agreement to sell the land to Linden Associates. Although the deal would require approval by the state Board of Public Works, the agreement allowed the developer to file the zoning petition Aug. 10.

The parcel is zoned for mixed use, but it is too small to meet the 50-acre requirement for such development.

Linden Associates wants to rezone the site to a category called planned office research, which permits office and research buildings with a limited amount of retail outlets, McLaughlin said.

She said the Planning Board would review the zoning request in about six weeks.

The office buildings would range from two to four stories. Another 2-acre parcel would be sold for a future hotel, corporate office or senior housing complex, Kurz said.

Kurz said he envisions the office park attracting shoppers and visitors even on weekends when the offices are closed.

"It will be a place on Sunday afternoons where people can bring their families and shop and listen to the high school orchestra play music in a gazebo," Kurz said.

The University of Maryland bought the site in 1935 to use as an animal husbandry farm, said John Kasner, research facilities manager for the school's agricultural experiment station at the College 8Park campus.

During the 1960s, the university used the farm to raise and breed horses, but discontinued that operation in 1989 because of encroaching development, Kasner said. It has been vacant since.

"You can imagine what a problem it would be to have high-spirited thoroughbreds behind townhouses," he said, adding that the state's plan to run Route 100 through a portion of the parcel sealed the university's decision. "We couldn't have operated under those conditions."

Kurz said the planned completion of Route 100 and Snowden River Parkway makes the parcel unsuitable for residences.

"When the roads that are under construction open, it's going to be a heavily traveled place," Kurz said. "It's not a nice spot for townhouses."

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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