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Princess Shopping Center expansion causes grumblings among residents

Construction of a third building in the Princess Shopping Center has begun, and will last roughly a year, according to the facility's owner, Michael Stavlas.

Stavlas, president of Stavlaou, LLC, the company that owns the center, said the $5 million project will be a two-floor mixed retail-residential building. The bottom floor will be reserved for retail space, while the top floor will offer 29 rental condo units, both one and two bedroom, at 800 to 1,000 square feet each.

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The entire structure will be approximately 50,000 square feet, much more sizable than the current two buildings, which Stavlas estimated were around 30 to 35,000 square feet each.

While Stavlas said the construction should not deter residents - that the building site is too far from the road to affect traffic flow or navigation of the center - some Eldersburg residents are concerned that the area has become inundated by chain businesses and strip malls.

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Kelly Spicer, 34, a long-time Eldersburg resident, said most locals appreciate the farmlands and open spaces of the area, but she has seen those are being slowly overtaken by office buildings and retail centers.

Stavlas said no residents have complained to him, or at his meetings with the county Planning and Zoning Commission, which began last year in mid-September. He said he met three or four more times with the commission to secure approval for the concept plan and the necessary permits.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said the best forum for residents to vent concerns are the commission meetings, as the county can hear those complaints and possibly weigh alternative options.

"It's difficult, once plans have been approved, though I guess probably [residents] could forward concerns to the owners," Howard said.

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Stavlas declined to name the tenants who would occupy the first floor of the new facility, citing ongoing lease negotiations, though he said they may include a healthcare spot and liquor store. Depending on the space requirements of the incoming businesses, Stavlas said he could fit up to 16 comfortably. Stavlas would not say whether the retailers would be chains, though he referenced that several chains occupy his current buildings, including Papa John's, Rita's, Bob Evans and more.

Howard said for Eldersburg to see economic growth, the area should be home to chain retailers, which could in turn yield revenue and opportunities for locals and their businesses.

"It's the right combination of things," he said.

Spicer said she has noticed many of the new shopping centers that are built are left vacant.

Spicer referenced the Liberty Exchange, the half-empty, multi-use facility at the intersection of Liberty Road and Md. 32, which is planned to total 225,000 square feet. Construction on Liberty Exchange will be completed within one to two years.

Richard Williamson, senior vice president of leasing for St. John Properties, Inc., the facility's owners, confirmed roughly 50 percent of the available space at Liberty Exchange is leased, and includes one retail center, two office buildings, and a flex space.

The company plans to build at least two more buildings, according to Williamson.

Williamson said St. John easily rented the entire first office building that opened January 2012, but that the second office space hasn't seen as much success.

"It's a small, niche market," he said, referring to Eldersburg.

Spicer said in her experience, the addition of new Eldersburg strip malls has led to traffic congestion, and overall an unpleasant living situation.

"We have more buildings, but what is really growing?," she said.

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