Home building, buying fuel boom in W. Arundel

THE BALTIMORE SUN

David C. Douglas moved to Odenton from his native Baltimore nearly four years ago. Before then, the 44-year-old attorney for the Treasury Department would drive to his job in the nation's capital.

"Around 1989, I couldn't take the commute anymore," Mr. Douglas said. He took the MARC train to work. In June of 1991, he and his wife Toni, 40, were driving through Odenton looking for a home closer to his job. In October of the same year, they moved into a two-story, single-family house in Seven Oaks.

Scores of families have followed the Douglases since, beneficiaries of the real estate boom concentrated in the western part of Anne Arundel County.

"Sixty-five percent of all growth in the county will be in the Odenton area," predicts David A. Moss, the president of Century 21 Moss Realty, in the 1500 block of Annapolis Road. Newcomers are Howard Countians disgruntled with the high cost of homes there, Baltimoreans looking for an easy commute to and from the city, and residents of Prince George's County who may be attracted by the easy access to the area provided by Interstate 97 and Routes 32 and 100.

One visible sign of Odenton's growth is the full parking lot at the MARC train station. Five years ago, 700 people a day boarded at the Odenton stop. Today, 1,100 people a day get on there.

Last March, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced a $4.7 million project that will increase the capacity of the parking lot at the Odenton MARC station from 800 to 1,400 cars.

Most of the residential development has been in two areas: the Piney Orchard complex just south of the old town center of the village of Odenton, and the Seven Oaks complex along Annapolis Road.

More than 1,100 single-family houses, duplexes, townhouses and apartments have been built and occupied in Seven Oaks since Halle Enterprises erected the first structure in 1989, a spokeswoman for the development company said. Although the company projects building a total of 2,900 structures in Seven Oaks, only 25 to 30 single-family homes are still available. The remaining dwellings built will be townhouses, duplexes, apartments or condominiums.

Mr. Moss said townhouses in Seven Oaks range from $125,000 to $150,000; duplexes range from $130,000 to $140,000; and single-family homes start at $180,000.

Steve Koren, Constellation Real Estate Group's development manager for Piney Orchard, said his firm has plans for construction of 4,000 units there and is "closing in" on 1,000 built and occupied so far.

Prices there range from $80,000 for some of the townhouses to the mid-$200,000s for the single-family units.

Piney Orchard also boasts an ice skating rink at the corner of Piney Orchard Parkway and Riverscape Road that the Washington Capitals use as a training facility.

Some welcome the influx of new blood into Odenton.

"We're delighted with the growth," said Marcia Hall, 48, executive director of the West Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce. But so many new people living in Odenton has also posed a bit of a problem:

"Odenton doesn't have sufficient retail outlets, and residents have to leave the area to shop," Ms. Hall lamented. Joyce McQueen, 51, an agent with Mr. Moss' company, agrees.

"That is my one big drawback with living in Odenton," said Ms. McQueen, who has lived in Seven Oaks for two years. "I shop in Laurel, Columbia and Annapolis. If you need a birthday present pretty quick, it's a problem."

Developers have already begun seeking a solution. Plans for a Seven Oaks Shopping Center have been developed and a site -- jTC on Blue Ridge Boulevard across from the Cambridge Commons Apartments -- selected, said Mr. Moss.

He fervently believes that other commercial development would be possible if someone had the foresight to do something about "The Strip," a one-mile stretch along Route 175 formerly known as Boomtown.

Most of the bars that once crowded The Strip and attracted servicemen from Fort Meade -- just across the road -- have given way to a hodgepodge of businesses. Visitors will now find a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Wendy's and a McDonald's restaurant there. A pizza shop, an adult video store, a tattoo boutique, a coin-operated laundry, a pool hall, 7-Eleven, Red Carpet Inn and Dunkin' Donuts now dot the landscape where soldiers once fought each other in barroom brawls. Mr. Moss said those businesses should all go.

"What needs to be done is for somebody to come in, buy them all up and tear them down," he asserted as he drove along the strip. New businesses that could better serve the new residents could be built in their place.

"There's no restaurants, no services," he said of the main problem facing Odenton's growing population. "You have to have residences go in first, and then services. But there seems to be a lag."

Glenn Akers, 43, a lifelong resident of Odenton, agreed with Mr. Moss.

"I would like to see that whole area renovated," he said of The Strip. "There's enough population [here] that [stores] would do a very good business." Mr. Akers is the current president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, but cautioned that his opinions were his own. Like Mr. Moss, he observed that commercial development has not kept pace with residential building.

But even new families in new homes pose problems, Mr. Akers said. The growing population creates traffic problems and puts a strain on the school system, which some residents feel may have spurred a recent proposal to have the area redistricted and students fed into the Meade High School system. That is a move Mr. Douglas -- a homeowner representative on the board of directors of the Seven Oaks Community Association -- has opposed, along with the notion that Seven Oaks should be perceived as a part of Fort Meade.

"People here have pretty much oriented themselves to Odenton proper," Mr. Douglas said.

ODENTON

Population: (1990 census) 53,000

Commuting time to Baltimore: 20-30 minutes, 20 miles

Commuting time to Washington: 45 minutes, 25 miles

Public schools: Odenton Elementary, Arundel Middle, Arundel High

Shopping: Odenton Shopping Center, Academy Junction Plaza, Tierra Plaza, North Odenton area on Route 175

Nearest mall: Mall at Marley Station, Annapolis Mall and Glen Burnie Mall

Points of Interest: Fort Meade Museum, Piney Orchard Ice Arena (practice for Washington Capitals), Naval Academy Dairy Farm, Odenton Heritage Society Museum, National Cryptologic Museum

Average price for single-family home*: $153,450 (171 sales)

Zip Code: 21113

* Average price for homes sold through STELLAR, the multiple listing service for Anne Arundel County, in the past 12 months.

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