Developer revives plan for Owings Mills center

Library and college site praised

congestion feared

April 18, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

After years of delays and legal wrangling, a developer is once again trying to move forward with a proposal for an Owings Mills town center near the area's Metro station.

Although the plans for the $220 million project and the public response to the proposed development are largely unchanged, alterations include a larger building for a new library and community college branch.

Officials from the new lead developer, David S. Brown Enterprises Inc., unveiled concept drawings at a community input meeting last week. The plans include a brick-paved main street surrounded by office buildings, stores, apartments or condos, five parking garages, a hotel and a five-story building to house the library and community college branch.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly described the legal action surrounding the proposed Owings Mills town center near the area's Metro station. In April 2003, the state filed a lawsuit against the former owners of the land where the town center is to be built, asking that a repurchase agreement between the state and the real estate investors who had owned the land be declared invalid. A month later, the former property owners, Painters Mill Venture, filed a countersuit.
The Sun regrets the error.

But the community's response to the project at Wednesday's meeting -- a mix of worries about traffic and congestion and praise for the library and promised meeting space -- was nearly identical to the feedback residents offered when the development was first proposed more than a decade ago.

"It looks great on paper. I hope it looks as good in reality," said Noel Levy, vice president of RENEW, an umbrella community group representing residents of Randallstown and Owings Mills, who has been following the proposed town center for years. "It seems to be a risky project. ... It's got more concrete than the Hoover Dam."

Levy and others, including Crystal Brown, treasurer of the New Town Community Association, said they are concerned about increased traffic and congestion and worry about the impact the project would have on existing stores.

With vacancies at the Owings Mills Mall and in other retail and office developments, Brown said, "I can't understand why we need more."

However, she said, "I like the idea of them wanting to expand the community college. And we do need a library." In response to residents' requests, the space for the college and library is about twice as large as what was previously proposed by other developers, said Fronda J. Cohen, marketing and communications director for the county's Department of Economic Development.

About 40 residents attended the community meeting at Franklin High School, where developers also assured commuters that there would still be plenty of parking spaces available for Metro riders and that there are no plans to charge for parking.

Baltimore County has committed $13.1 million and the state has agreed to pay $15.1 million for public parking and infrastructure at the town center. The county has also set aside $16.7 million for the library and community college.

Plans for the 47.5-acre site call for two phases. The southern parcel would be constructed first and include three garages, three office buildings with first-floor retail and restaurant space and a complex to include a 250-room hotel, 495 residential units, shops and offices. A five-story building would house a 40,000-square-foot library and 60,000-square-foot community college branch. A large open area in front of it could be used for concerts and other public events, said Arthur H. Adler, vice president of David S. Brown Enterprises.

The northern portion of the site would include four office buildings and two garages.

Cohen said the state and the county are still finalizing the master development agreement, which, among other matters, will outline when elements will be built.

A tentative agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by the former owners of land where the town center is to be built has not been finalized either, state officials said.

The final agreement between the former property owners, Painters Mill Venture, and the state Department of Transportation must be approved by the state Board of Public Works, said transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan. David S. Brown Enterprises Inc. and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. replaced a developer that withdrew from the project in 2002 and had planned to start the first of three construction phases in 2003 when Painters Mill filed its lawsuit.

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