Just four months ago, Odenton residents could learn all they wanted to know about the three massive communities being built around them by looking out their windows.

Big dump trucks clogged the roads and acres and acres of land were cleared. At the Seven Oaks site, families were moving into town houses and single-family homes -- the first wave of what would eventually be 15,000 new area residents.

The year started out as a turning point for Odenton. Plans for the three developments -- Seven Oaks, Piney Orchard and Russett Center -- had been on the books for years, but 1990 was when bulldozers finally moved in.

Now, the future of Odenton's development isn't so clear. Residents wanting growth control battled with the developers over new regulations.

The war ended in October on the floor of the County Council, with the passage of a bill limiting development of a commercial parcel known as the Odenton Town Center.

The builder of Seven Oaks, the Halle Cos., then pulled out of a deal with the state that could have assured a MARC commuter train station at Town Center -- something wanted by both developers and community residents.

Halle had offered to donate six acres of land for the train station and build three ramps onto Route 32 -- which the company argued were necessary for the Town Center concept to work. In exchange, the state would buy 32 acres along Route 32 it needed for a road upgrade.

But when the bill passed, Halle said the deal with the state wasn't worth signing because of the uncertainty of what could be built in a 218-acre Town Center.

Halle then sued the county over its failure to enlarge the Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant, claiming the county backed out of an earlier deal.

Without the expansion, Halle vice president Stephen Fleischman argued, only about half the Seven Oaks project can be built. Thus, he said, the company shouldn't be forced to build an elementary school required by the county.

The whole issue ended up in a courtroom. Halle lost -- although the judge was sympathetic to Fleischman's argument, he cited the lack of a written agreement on the plant expansion in issuing his ruling -- and was forced to pay the county $2.1 million, the second of three payments to finance the new elementary school.

The company has since failed to secure bank backing for its third $2 million payment, due next year.

That failure has opened the door for the county to consider issuing a stop-work order at the site, which could shut down work at the 4,700-unit development, on Route 32 opposite Fort Meade, indefinitely. Deputy County Attorney Steven LeGendre said last week he is considering taking Halle to court again.

"We had heard about the projects for a long time," said Pat Wellford, president of the Odenton Improvement Association. "This past year, we actually saw them come out of the ground."

Russett Center, a 3,500-unit development between Route 198 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, finished clearing land and has just contracted out for building its first phase. Piney Orchard, with 4,000 homes, has just about completed building its roads.

Seven Oaks, however, remains the only development of the three to have residents. But some of them, Wellford said, may be getting nervous about the future.

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