Getting to The Pointe

Expansion: Owings Mills New Town may not be just as its developers planned, but its success is leading to more construction.

October 10, 1999|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

When you turn onto Lakeside Boulevard, what you will see is a tree-lined thoroughfare that at day's end is lined with yuppie joggers, making the trek from one end of Owings Mills New Town to the other.

But try to follow the road to its namesake and there will be no such luck.

Turn onto Groffs Mill Drive -- another main artery that runs through the community -- and the village strip center greets residents with everything the planners said would be there. An athletic club. Restaurant. Grocery store. Liquor store. There's Starbucks, Blockbuster and McDonald's among them. There's the day-care center and dueling pools with clubhouse nestled nearby.

But 13 years ago, there were other, more sophisticated ideas for Lakeside -- the original name for Owings Mills New Town.

Besides the lake and its proposed boating facilities, there were going to be a series of high-rise residential towers with waterfront views. There was talk of a hotel and conference complex and even a police station to serve the approved 5,500 homes in this 430-acre northwest Baltimore County community.

James and Terry Rubenstein, the original developers, envisioned a community that would carry a flavor similar to The Village of Cross Keys. Cross Keys "has the feeling that we believe Lakeside ought to have and the success it ought to have," James Rubenstein said in an interview in 1987.

Today, as the final phase of New Town -- called The Pointe -- begins to take shape, the question is, did the $400 million, 3,500-unit community fulfill its destiny?

"The market today is not what it was 10 years ago," said Carmen Gilmore, marketing director for New Town since 1992. "But it turned out to be pretty close to what everybody was talking about years ago, which is absolutely phenomenal to have come as close to the original plan as it has."

The New Town tale has many twists and turns, and no one today would say it carries the same urban ambience as Cross Keys, but it's apparent that the vision of Owings Mills New Town remains as clear today as when it was planned almost two decades ago.

"All the millions of dollars New Town spent to create that lifestyle is now paying off," said T. Kevin Carney, president of Thomas Builders, which is building first-floor master bedroom, carriage-style homes in The Pointe.

"People like [New Town] and they don't want to go outside. There is a lifestyle that is created in New Town. It's like Columbia, but it is Baltimore's answer to Columbia in that it is close to the mall. It is close to the Metro. It is close to all the new office buildings and the Red Run corridor growth area. Clean, quiet and convenient.

"All the money that has been well spent to create that lifestyle for the people in New Town is paying off. They see it is all in place."

Even Terry Rubenstein, who with James lost direct control of the development when their now defunct company, Bancroft Homes Inc., ran into financial difficulties in 1988, reflected on it with a sense of accomplishment.

"It is exactly the way we have planned it, and we are proud that what seemed like a wild and crazy idea has turned out to be a wonderful community," said Rubenstein, who with her husband was retained by California-based Ahmanson Residential Development -- which purchased the property -- to manage the development until 1997. "It is delightful and wonderful to see that the actual plans and names and concepts are going to be finished."

Missing lake and school

For all of its success, the early loss of the lake and the uncertain timetable of building an elementary school helped to change the face of the community.

Originally, planners had hoped to dam Red Run stream. But the Army Corps of Engineers never gave formal approval and Baltimore County abandoned the idea in 1992. It wasn't until earlier this year that ground was finally broken for New Town Elementary.

"I wouldn't use the word that it hurt the personality. It didn't hurt it, it changed it into something much different," said Fritzi Hallock, president of MarketSmart, an Owings Mills-based consulting firm used by builders. "It changed it from something that textbooks could have been written about. It could have been very revolutionary, very exciting and very people-friendly. Another city. Another downtown.

"What we have instead is a concentrated suburban node. So the development is single-family homes, townhouses, apartments, condominiums with shopping center," she said.

"The lake going away impacted much more than Owings Mills New Town," Gilmore said. "It actually impacted Owings Mills proper Baltimore County was looking to the lake to be a focal point, to be the downtown area."

But Carney figures that not having the lake may have worked to the community's benefit.

"The lake would have justified higher density [with the high-rises], and the owners of New Town would say that they didn't make the kind of [investment] return they should have made, had they had the higher density," Carney said.

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