Residents form core of thriving Owings Mills

Growth: Designated as a development target in the 1970s, the community still has `a lot of potential.'


September 26, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The criticism that's most often heard about Owings Mills is that it has no perceptible core: The community lacks a library, and some feel it lacks a geographic and spiritual center, also.

"We have this huge community of people, but we don't have the cultural component that we need in the area, and we're still working on that," said Vicki Almond, past president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council, an affiliation of homeowners associations that has been around since the 1970s.

But the lack of a community focal point doesn't bother Samuel Pettijohn, who moved to Owings Mills in 1981 from a town about 30 miles outside of Chicago.

"We came from an unincorporated area, so we got used to not having a downtown," he said. When he and his family need a library, they go to Pikesville. For a night on the town, they drive to Baltimore, which is about 20 minutes away.

`Just more traffic'

When Pettijohn and his wife, Ann, moved to Owings Mills, they thought the traffic was bad. Now it's much worse in the fast-growing community. "The area where we live hasn't changed quite as much," Samuel Pettijohn said. "But in the last years, we've started seeing increasing traffic on Park Heights Avenue, and of course the number of subdivisions has increased. A gut reaction - it's just more traffic."

The catalyst for the tremendous growth of Owings Mills was Baltimore County's 1979 master plan, which specifically designated Owings Mills and White Marsh as areas where development would be concentrated.

The idea, according to county planner Pat Keller, was to concentrate development in a few areas and avoid sprawl throughout the county. In many ways, the goals of the 1979 plan have been realized.

"Probably the most salient point that can be said about both White Marsh and Owings Mills is that they worked," said Fronda Cohen, director of marketing and communications for the county Department of Economic Development.

"Baltimore County is somewhat unique in the nation in being one of the early jurisdictions to adopt Smart Growth," she said.

Major projects

In 1986, the development plan got an enormous boost with three major projects: the completion of Interstate 795, which extends to the Carroll County border; the construction of the Owings Mills Metro station, which linked Owings Mills to Baltimore; and the opening of Owings Mills Mall.

The state has planned a $220 million project to give Owings Mills a town center - including homes, offices, shops, a hotel, a library and a community college - at the Owings Mills Metro station, but a legal battle has delayed the project.

Once the transportation infrastructure and Owings Mills Mall were in place, Cohen said, residents and businesses flocked to Owings Mills. Businesses such as T. Rowe Price built satellite offices in Owings Mills, while maintaining their flagship presence in Baltimore.

"The highway and the Metro allow for those kinds of convenient, easy connections," Cohen said, and made it possible for people to live near where they worked.

The county has attracted many high-profile businesses and organizations, including the Ravens football team, Maryland Public Television, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Solo Cup.

"What you've got now is a county land-use policy that encourages a mix of live-where-you-work opportunities," Cohen said.

Lake plan dried up

Yet Owings Mills was supposed to be different. It was supposed to have a lake.

The lake was supposed to be the centerpiece of a town center. Restaurants and other high-end development were to surround it.

However, the Army Corps of Engineers rejected the lake plan in the early 1990s, saying it would be damaging to the environment. "This was really going to be the town center," Cohen said. "When that project did not come about, the town center focus shifted more to where the mall and the restaurant park now are."

When the mall opened, it was anchored by a Saks Fifth Avenue and a Lord & Taylor. Since then, those two stores have left. Owings Mill Mall is now home to Hecht's, Macy's and other department stores.

Keller said changes at the mall reflect the reality of the community. "I find it to be, at least economically, very diverse," he said. "If you look at Owings Mills, it's got quite a range of housing."

Although the lake will never be, Keller said alternatives are under consideration. "A lot of the land where the lake would have been is reservation," he said. "In the early '90s, we did a park study when we knew the lake was going to go down. One of the concepts was a sculpture garden or a huge park, with bicycling and hiking. There's a lot of potential out there. It's kind of exciting."

One of the few reminders of the lake project is Lakeside Drive, a road that now leads into New Town and the New Town Village Center, a shopping center with a Giant supermarket, a Starbucks and other retailers.

Crowded schools

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