Much of the West County Chamber’s (WCC) focus during the past year has been on revision of the Odenton Town Center Master Plan. Why so much attention on a decade-old plan?
Because while the initial Master Plan was designed to move Odenton redevelopment forward, the result of the Master Plan introduced in 2003 (and revised in 2009) has been to hamper projects at every turn.
Much of the issue lies with a decision, made years ago, to treat all of the Odenton Growth Management Area as a town center. This led to implementation of urban-type planning guidelines throughout this suburban community, rather than concentrating denser growth around the MARC Station, where it makes sense. The more auto-oriented corridors in East Odenton and North Odenton, along Route 175, do not lend themselves to this type of development; nor does the Industrial Corridor along Route 170.
What Works and Where
In suggesting revisions, this is one of the primary areas in which the WCC’s review committee voiced concern. From signage standards and setbacks not appropriate to most of Odenton; to road right-of-ways that were so expansive (especially in the industrial corridor, where most lots have legacy construction) that applying them left no land on which to build; to setbacks not appropriate for auto-oriented corridors; we encouraged Anne Arundel’s Office of Planning and Zoning to concentrate town center development in the center of town, and allow more leeway in other areas.
While requirements are still more restrictive than we think appropriate outside the Core, the recently-released final draft is a much more workable alternative.
Another concern raised by the committee, which was composed of developers, engineers, attorneys and county representatives, centered around ongoing conflicts between the Master Plan’s requirements and other county code. While the 2009 version of the Master Plan specified that, in the case of a conflict with Article 18, the Master Plan would prevail, conflicts with the “Department of Public Works Design Manual,” “County Landscape Manual, “State Highway requirements and more were left unresolved. This led to the need for frequent modification requests for Master Plan requirements, which was a time-consuming and costly process that delayed nearly every project constructed in Odenton.
Again, the new Master Plan has been significantly improved in this respect, though the proof will be in its implementation.
Keep It Simpler
Concerns about when a property was required to comply with the Master Plan and to what extent also created problems, particularly for longtime property owners, due to the requirement for “proportional” compliance. The new Master Plan implements a simple on/off switch: If a property is modified by more than 50%, whether site or façade, it is required to comply with the plan’s requirements. Below that threshold, no compliance is required.
Our final concern, and one that was not adequately addressed, was the implementation of open space and activity space requirements. Because Odenton is riddled with wetlands, even in the center of town, a number of projects haven’t been able to reach anticipated density — and hence the urban, walkable design — that the Master Plan envisions. We recommended two changes.
First, because the implementation of open and activity space requirements has led to a plethora of benches and picnic tables in unusable areas, we recommended that a fee in lieu be established to allow developers to pay into a fund that could be used for more meaningful and useful public activity space (such as a park). We also recommended that undevelopable land not be included in open space requirements, as in some cases its inclusion left 40% or more of a site undevelopable.
We were unsuccessful on both counts, although the county has agreed to consider the fee in lieu provision.
We are delighted with the changes that have been made, and look forward to working with County Executive Steve Schuh’s administration on the successful implementation of a substantially improved, if not perfect, Odenton Town Center Master Plan.
Are you an Odenton landowner? Planning new development or redevelopment in the Odenton Town Center? If so, you benefitted from the work the chamber did and continues to do on this project. Why not join the WCC and support their efforts? For more information, call President & CEO Claire Louder at 410-672-3422.