By: Melody Simmons
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012
A $500 million development now under way may help spark the final push needed to solidify the economic activity envisioned for Owings Mills when planners designated this northwest Baltimore County corridor as a growth area more than 30 years ago.
From Interstate 795, the area’s skyline is marked with the symbol of the expansion: a towering crane at the construction site of a six-story, 120,000-square-foot structure to house a new public library and branch of the Community College of Baltimore County as part of the Metro Centre at Owings Mills development.
The rest of the 45-acre site has been cleared and graded for what will be the first phase of development for 300,000 square feet of transit-oriented commercial office space, up to 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and 250 residential units. Howard Brown, chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd., is developing the project, which is expected to be completed in spring 2013.
“It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking,” said Baltimore County Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, who represents part of Owings Mills, of the flurry of development that includes a planned $65 million redevelopment of the Owings Mills Mall and plans to add a Wegmans supermarket and other retail at the Solo Cup site on Reisterstown Road.
“The community and surrounding areas have waited such a long time for something to happen there,” she added.
Almond said Owings Mills “never reached its potential” after it was named a growth area by the county along with White Marsh in 1979.
She said the Owings Mills plan failed mainly because state and federal environmental experts repeatedly rejected a plan in the 1980s to allow construction of a 100-acre lake to serve as a centerpiece for single-family housing units that, in turn, never materialized.
“Owings Mills has always felt like a stepchild to White Marsh, because they got everything they were supposed to and we didn’t,” Almond said.
Building boom at Stevenson
But activity is humming now.
Besides the Metro Centre at Owings Mills, the changes to the mall by developer Kimco Realty Corp. and owner General Growth Properties and the proposed Foundry Row development at the Solo Cup site, Stevenson University is building out its Owings Mills campus with the addition of enough dormitories and student apartments to house 2,000 undergraduates.
The private university, formerly tiny Villa Julie College, is rooted in the Greenspring Valley, but had nowhere to expand there because the rural site lacks public infrastructure, said President Kevin J. Manning. The university has spent about $200 million to build the new campus, Brown said.
“We selected this site in 2003 because it had the best potential,” Manning said of Stevenson’s search of sites in Owings Mills and Reisterstown. “It is unlimited.”
Manning said Stevenson’s Owings Mills campus is on 127 acres, including the nearby 27-acre Shire Pharmaceuticals property purchased in November 2011 for $10.5 million. The Stevenson School of Design and School of the Sciences will relocate there from the Greenspring campus.
In addition, the university is negotiating with the state to buy 60 acres of the shuttered Rosewood Center, which abuts the campus, Manning said. He has been the school’s president for 11 years.
Once farmland, Stevenson’s campus in Owings Mills has spawned a mini-boom in commercial, retail and restaurant development along Owings Mills Boulevard, about a mile off of I-795, for students and families.
The campus itself is dotted with a state-of-the-art athletic center where the Baltimore Ravens once trained, red-brick student housing and classrooms for a new business school and general classrooms. A new 3,500-seat football stadium with a turf field that was the scene of the Division III Mustangs’ inaugural 2-8 season last fall stands at the gateway to the development. Students are transported between the two campuses by shuttle bus.
An endowment of $55 million is helping to fuel the expansion, Manning said, adding that a decision has not been made about the future of the original campus on 66 bucolic acres along Greenspring Drive.
“Within five years, we expect to have a total of 5,500 students,” he said of undergraduate and graduate enrollment projections.
New zoning for Solo Cup?
Such growth will also feed into the building under way at Metro Centre and the Owings Mills Mall, said Brown, the developer of the Metro Centre mixed-use development and Stevenson’s Owings Mills campus.
“I never gave it much thought that I’d be developing that whole campus,” Brown said, adding he began by building the first 600 dorm rooms at the site and now has constructed space for 2,000 beds, a dining hall and campus meeting rooms. He will break ground on a 1,200-space parking garage near the stadium this spring.
“It started off as a mitzvah, and then it was like an addiction. Now, Stevenson University has raised the stature here another couple of notches,” he added.
Brown said he is opposed to plans by developer Greenberg Gibbons Commercial to redevelop the Solo Cup site in part because he believes it will create a traffic nightmare along Reisterstown Road, less than five miles from the Metro Centre and mall.
Tom Fitzpatrick, President and COO, of Greenberg Gibbons, said Thursday that engineers hired by the company are completing a traffic study for the $150 million Foundry Row project at the Solo Cup site.
“What was there when the [Solo Cup] facility was running generated more trips at peak hours than our retail project will generate,” Fitzpatrick said, declining to reveal any data until the study is completed. “We are proposing to make significant traffic improvements to the Painter’s Mill and Reisterstown Road corner, which otherwise wouldn’t be done.”
“It’s a misconception they are painting,” he added, referring to Brown’s criticisms of the Foundry Row project.
“There’s no oversaturation. We’re bringing something new to the market, featuring Wegmans. We are creating a grocery-anchored, open-air lifestyle center, like a town center. The majority of development at Metro Centre is residential and they have no anchor retail there. The mall is a fashion-, department store anchor-based project. How can there be an oversaturation when they are three distinctly different properties?”
The Solo Cup site would require a zoning change, a year-long process now under way. A public hearing on the proposed rezoning is scheduled for March 29 at 7 p.m. at Pikesville High School by the Baltimore County Department of Planning.
Fitzpatrick said the new developments in Owings Mills have different characteristics, and therefore, would not clash. The Foundry Row project could break ground by the end of 2013, he said, if all zoning and planning hurdles are cleared.
Meanwhile, Almond said the planned changes to the mall are still in the works and she has not seen a blueprint. But the changes are likely to bring the single-family housing development plans back, available for families of workers at T. Rowe Price Associates, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Toyota Financial Services, as well as newcomers.
“Five years from now it is my vision to see a prosperous area here — it will come alive, and that’s key,” Almond said.
Brown agreed, saying ongoing additions to the community are positioning it to take off and become a destination area.
“The synergy of it really changes and says something for Owings Mills,” he said of the university and the commercial and retail expansion. “Owings Mills is no longer suburbia. It’s the downtown of Baltimore County.”