Developers of the Merritt Pavilion project in Dundalk say restaurant chains Chipotle, Panera and Five Guys are among tenants negotiating to lease space there.

Baltimore County officials and Baltimore-based developer Vanguard also said this week they are working to address community concerns about the office and retail project, slated to be built at the site of the North Point Government Center.

Residents packed a hearing in the spring to express concerns about traffic, a loss of community open space and disruption.

Vanguard's plans call for 60,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and about 16,000 square feet of offices. The county review process is underway, and Vanguard hopes to open the project by fall 2016.

Officials say Vanguard scrapped plans to build a community amphitheater at the site, and has pledged to increase the size of a promised recreation center. Additionally, the company will contribute funds toward a new turf field at nearby Merritt Point Park.

Len Weinberg, a Vanguard principal, called Dundalk "a great underserved market."

Chipotle, Panera and Five Guys are negotiating letters of intent to locate in the development at Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue, according to county officials and Vanguard.

"We're early on, but we're really excited with the ... strong response we've had," said Weinberg, adding that developers also hope to secure commitments from two full-service restaurants.

The government center, used for community recreation and arts programs, is one of three publicly owned sites the county put up for sale for private development last year.

As part of its agreement with the county, Vanguard committed to build a 21,000-square-foot recreation and arts center, but plans now call for it to be more than 24,000 square feet. Vanguard will contribute 25 percent of the cost for a new turf field at Merritt Point Park, about a mile from the center. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration said this week the county would pay the other 75 percent.

Plans for the amphitheater were dropped because residents didn't want it, Weinberg said.

County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. a Dundalk Democrat, said in a statement that he'd worked with Vanguard to address issues raised by residents, and was pleased at the caliber of tenants showing interest in the project.

The county also formally agreed not to let the new development disrupt the community's annual Fourth of July fireworks display at Grange Elementary next to the government center, as some residents had feared, said Joe Falbo, president of the Heritage Association of Dundalk, which runs the show. He said the project never really endangered the fireworks.

"Everything's going to stay the same, it's just in writing now," Falbo said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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