Officials praise plans for Savage

MARC station parking lot would be developed with businesses and homes


An ambitious plan to transform the bare, sprawling parking lot at the Savage MARC train station into a hub of residential and commercial activity received enthusiastic endorsement yesterday from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and a gathering of other state and Howard County officials.

At a news conference on the station lot, the officials and Phillip L. Ross, president of Petrie Ross Ventures of Annapolis, showed artists' drawings of high-rise buildings surrounding fountain plazas lined with sidewalk cafes.

If the proposal were to become reality, it would mean the transformation of what is now an industrialized area near the Anne Arundel County line, bounded by highways and train tracks and serenaded by passing dump trucks.

"We intend to bring this parking lot to life," Ehrlich said, after telling a crowd that "we are standing on a gold mine."

The project, on which construction would start in 2008 if all goes well, is seen by state and local officials as important in helping Howard and Anne Arundel counties prepare for a predicted influx of new, defense-related workers at Fort Meade and the National Security Agency because of military base realignment.

The Savage station is just off Route 32, the prime highway connecting Columbia and Clarksville with the federal employment centers and Annapolis.

Two years ago, Howard County officials rezoned land around the Dorsey and Savage train stations to transportation-oriented development, a new category intended to encourage dense, mixed-use projects along the U.S. 1 corridor. The zone requires that 15 percent of the apartments be for moderate-income families.

"We have organized this to be very pedestrian-friendly," Ross said.

The plan calls for two high-rise residential towers containing a combined 260 apartments, 53,000 square feet of mostly retail stores, two restaurants, 145,000 square feet of office space in two six-story buildings, a nine-story, 200-room hotel and five parking garages for 2,000 vehicles spread throughout the site.

It is a preliminary, conceptual plan that, for example, shows two 13-story residential towers, even though county height regulations limit buildings to 100 feet or about nine stories, according to Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director, who also attended the event.

Petrie Ross project manager Matthew A. Lattin said the firm will comply with county standards once a plan is submitted.

The first task is to set a sale price on the 15-acre, state-owned parcel. Ross said the firm would like to expand the project if it also can buy an adjoining 20 acres now used for warehousing by the Boise Cascade Corp.

Maryland Secretary of Transportation Robert L. Flanagan, a former Howard County delegate, said the state got no offers in 2003 when it advertised for private development around state-owned MARC and Metro train stations.

Last year, lobbyist and former state delegate and Laurel Mayor Robert J. DiPietro said he suggested a transit-oriented development to Petrie Ross, a six-year-old firm that redevelops older shopping centers into mixed residential and commercial developments, such as Annapolis Towne Center at Parole.

After receiving the firm's offer, state officials advertised for 60 days and got two more development proposals. An internal state government committee decided Petrie Ross had the best concept and awarded the company exclusive negotiating rights with the state for six months to buy and develop the 940-space parking lot.

Sale of the property would have to be approved by the state Board of Public Works.

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