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Industry Perspective: Odenton Transforming, But Much Still to Be Done

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If you haven’t been to Odenton in a while, you’re in for a surprise. After many years of stalled development, the landscape is really changing for the community that is adjacent to rapidly-growing Fort Meade.

Much of the current development is residential, reflecting the desire of those working at Fort Meade to live close to the post. In addition to the three major apartment developments that have opened since 2010, Novus Apartments and Broadstone West 32 are now under construction and expected to deliver 175 and 212 apartments, respectively, this spring.

Among the previously delivered developments are 615 Odenton Gateway (252 apartments), Flats170 at Academy Yard (369 apartments), The Village at Odenton Station (235 apartments and Anne Arundel County’s first transit-oriented development) and Town Center Commons (240 townhomes).

Movin’ On Up

In addition, Homes for America plans to build 48 workforce-priced apartments across from Fort Meade at Berger Square, and The Halle Companies has submitted a request to shift some of its planned office park development back to the originally-planned residential.

To continue that train of thought, the increased number of rooftops in Odenton, and the prime demographics of a highly-educated and well-paid populace, have finally caught the attention of retailers.

Several grocery stores are in discussions with local developers, likely responding to the projection of the 2013 Odenton Retail Analysis that Odenton could support at least two more grocers, for a total of 200,000 square feet. Baltimore Coffee & Tea, Odenton’s first coffee shop, opened in The Village at Odenton Station last summer, as did A Better You Medi-Spa. Baybridge Properties is breaking ground this winter on a new restaurant, The All-American Steakhouse and Sports Theater, across from Fort Meade. And Jim’s Hideaway is under new ownership and has been completely remodeled, with a new menu.

Finally, the Chesapeake Innovation Center, Anne Arundel County’s technology incubator, moved into the Fort Meade Corporate Center last fall, where it offers executive office suites and a large training room that’s available for rental.

But, despite the progress, much still needs to be done if the Odenton Town Center is to be successful. Most important is transforming the acres of surface parking at the Odenton MARC Station into a mixed-use development that will attract commercial activity, as well as providing additional parking for commuters. This will require commitment of state and county funds in addition to those provided by the private development team.

While the county has already created an Odenton Town Center Development District to collect the tax increment from new development and direct it to the construction of the transit-oriented development, the state has not yet identified the source of its share.

Furthermore, additional infrastructure requirements for the Town Center need to be included in the county’s plans for the development district, including road expansion, particularly in the heart of the Town Center, utility work and creation of parks and pedestrian connections.

The Road Ahead

Two major road projects are in process now. One is Town Center Boulevard, which will be constructed by The Halle Companies under the terms its 2010 Developer’s Rights & Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) with Anne Arundel County. Permits are being finalized now, with construction to begin once they are issued, with expected completion in 2016.

The other key project is upgrading, resignalizing and realigning the grid roads within the Odenton Town Center Core. The Department of Public Works has recommended a contractor to design those improvements; the contract is expected to be issued in April.

A question mark in all discussions about the Odenton Town Center is what changes will be included in the five-year revision of the Odenton Town Center Master Plan, now months overdue. With every significant project currently requiring modifications to the outdated Master Plan, creating months of delays each time, it is clear the document needs to be significantly revised.

Unfortunately, no one outside the county’s Long Range Planning Department has seen the draft, so it is impossible to know if the recommended changes are adequate.

Image Issues

Unfortunately, even as the Odenton Town Center moves forward, it continues to battle an image problem. Broken gateway signs, overgrown medians, weed-filled sidewalks and untrimmed trees contribute to an atmosphere of neglect, rather than that of a prosperous community.

The current Odenton branding of an old-timey train doesn’t help and is no longer representative of Odenton’s future as the United States’ cyberhub. The Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. had committed funds to rebrand the community to encourage investment, but those funds were put on hold when the new county administration took office.

The completion of the Odenton Town Center won’t happen without active attention by the county and state. The West Anne Arundel County Chamber Commerce and its Odenton Now Coalition will continue to advocate for outstanding issues to be resolved and for the Odenton Town Center to receive the resources it needs to be successful.

Claire Louder is CEO of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. She can be contacted at 410-672-3422 and clouder@waaccc.org.