Long-delayed building to start in Owings Mills Completion of road opens untouched acres for variety of projects

November 20, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

The plan to funnel Baltimore County's growth to Owings Mills moves to a new level today, when construction is to begin on a mammoth, long-delayed business park on the community's last large undeveloped tract.

The Riparius Center, being built by Timonium-based Riparius Development Corp., is designed to provide thousands of jobs and up to 3.5 million square feet of office space -- more than the combined space in five of downtown Baltimore's largest corporate towers.

Today's groundbreaking, for Automatic Data Processing's regional headquarters, comes as workers near completion of a road that will open hundreds more acres north of Owings Mills Town Center and mall for job-producing development.

"This is a groundbreaking in more sense than one," said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican, who represents the area. "It's a groundbreaking for this particular building, but it's also a groundbreaking for that whole corridor."

And, some might say, it's about time. Development in the area was delayed for a decadewhile officials tried to build a centerpiece lake -- an idea that was killed by environmental concerns. Similarly, the route of the crucial Red Run Boulevard extension was redrawn several times because of environmental issues, further delaying major commercial projects.

The Riparius complex is part of a plan to channel growth to Owings Mills and White Marsh, while protecting rural areas of northern Baltimore County.

The complex, the biggest project planned for the area north of Town Center, covers 160 acres, including a large wooded area owned for decades by Pikesville Sportsman's Club, according to Riparius Development.

The Riparius Center's first project is a $13 million, 110,000-square-foot regional headquarters for Automatic Data Processing Inc., which provides human resources and payroll software. The company will move more than 300 employees from its regional offices in Towson to the new building.

Peter G. Moore, vice president and general manager for the company, said the new location will provide room for expansion and highway access to allow easy shipment of payroll documents to clients in the region. Moore said the company didn't want to move too far from its existing location because its jobs require a "long learning curve."

The building is scheduled to be completed in September.

Charles F. Johnson, vice president of Riparius Development,said his company is talking with other prospective tenants, but none beyond ADP has formally committed. Although a 165-room Hilton Hotel is planned near the mall and the Owings Mills Corporate Campus, Johnson said Riparius is seeking a hotel for its business park.

In addition to office space, Riparius' complex is to eventually include stores, restaurants, banks and other "convenience-oriented retail" businesses, Johnson said. Industry sources have said the company, as part of a pending merger with a North Carolina real estate investment trust, also is expected to take advantage of Owings Mills' 5 percent office vacancy rate by developing a 125,000-square-foot office building on a speculative basis.

Seeking to further assist development in the area, county officials have asked the state to support an interchange at Interstate 795 and Dolfield Boulevard.

But Johnson said the key to moving ahead was the county's willingness to build the three-mile, $11 million Red Run Boulevard extension with no commitments from business park tenants. A portion of the road leading to the Riparius site is set to open, and the entire stretch from Owings Mills Town Center to Franklin Boulevard is to be open by summer.

"The road was important for us because it opened up our land for development," Johnson said. "ADP's decision to relocate out there totally validates everything the county had in mind when they committed to building Red Run Boulevard."

William Hughey, a county planner for the Owings Mills area, said completion of the road project will allow other landowners in the area to move ahead with plans to develop office complexes.

The impending completion of the road project heightened pressures to alter the Owings Mills plan. Last year, a developer proposed building 500,000 square feet of warehouse-sized stores and restaurants on land south of the Riparius site.

But McIntire, who controlled the decision on a rezoning request crucial to that project, turned down the proposal. In effect, with the backing of other county officials, he rejected the promise of immediate development to save the land for light industry and office development, which would generate better-paying jobs.

With the start of the Riparius project, and with a movie complex and a restaurant park in the works near the Owings Mills mall, local business leaders are optimistic about the area's future, said Brenda Crabbs, director of the Owings Mills Corporate Round Table, a consortium of area businesses.

"By spring, you're going to see rooftops coming up, new ones everywhere," she said. "It's an exciting time."

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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