Owings Mills project studied

Town center concept raises worries over traffic, competition

First open forum held

January 20, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The designers of the $200 million Owings Mills town center project have worked hard in recent months, drawing and discarding eight or nine versions as they digest community feedback.

But a town meeting this week revealed that the developers have far to travel to address concerns about traffic, competition to existing businesses and the amount of public space to be included in the project.

"If they absolutely can't do this first-quality so that everyone is proud, let's not do it at all," said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, the north county-Owings Mills Republican who represents the area.

After listening to several hours of presentations and comments at Owings Mills High School on Thursday night, McIntire concluded: "Public opinion seems to be against it."

But John Infantino, a vice president of LCOR, the Pennsylvania firm chosen as master developer, said that ideas and opinions are welcome as the concept evolves over the next six months.

"Our goal is to build a neighborhood that you and ourselves can be proud of," Infantino told the crowd of 150.

The state Mass Transit Administration and the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development are teaming up to create a heart and soul for Owings Mills, the booming region designated a county growth area in the mid-1980s.

State and county officials envision a public plaza, a library, a community college campus, apartments and houses, retail stores, office space and a technology center on 46 acres owned by the MTA surrounding the Owings Mills Metro Center. The goal is to increase transit ridership while providing a pedestrian-friendly focal point for the region.

The first step would be to construct a five-story parking garage to replace the Metro station's surface parking area. Plans call for free garage parking for transit riders.

LCOR was chosen as lead developer in August and since then has held several invitation-only focus groups to shape its plans. Thursday's town meeting, sponsored by the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council and the area Chamber of Commerce, was the first open forum. Mandatory planning meetings, part of the county's development review process, lie ahead.

Audience members raised several concerns Thursday night. They said they don't want to add traffic to an already congested Reisterstown Road or siphon business from local merchants.

"This just might kill Owings Mills Mall," said Elliott Lehem, a Randallstown resident.

But Albert M. Copp, a planning consultant retained by the MTA, predicted that the right mix of town center tenants would create "synergy" that would spread for blocks.

"When Harborplace was approved, every merchant in Little Italy was opposed to it," said Copp, who worked on the waterfront project in downtown Baltimore.

But within a year, he said, many restaurants had expanded to accommodate growing business. The same thing happened to an existing shopping center after White Marsh Town Center was built, he said.

McIntire said he hoped commercial development would not squeeze out public buildings. "I'm concerned that the library is 15,000 square feet when we need 30,000 square feet," he said.

Others, such as Owings Mills resident Joyce Tuchmann, were concerned about putting more cars on crowded roads. She described the intersection of Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads, near the Metro station, as "awful."

James W. Pfeiffer, an MTA real estate manager, said, "This project will not make [area roads] any worse than they are going to get anyway."

Fronda J. Cohen, marketing director for the county economic development department, predicted that LCOR and its partner companies would do all they could to address the complaints that arose this week.

"They're good listeners," Cohen said. "I've been real impressed."

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