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Town center plan is only on paper Odenton development requires economic growth and community help


Odenton may have a new development plan, but it is unlikely anyone will see the homes, shops and offices envisioned in the plan anytime soon.

It has been nearly three decades since county officials approved the original plan that designated Odenton as one of the county's three "town centers," where zoning laws allowed for high-density growth. And a single shovelful of earth has yet to turn in the first project.

The new plan "won't do a thing unless the economy turns around and the developers put money into it," said Ed Griemsmann, sales manager with O'Conor Piper & Flynn and a member of the citizen committee that drew up the plan. "The county has to get its act together."

Mr. Griemsmann said the county and state should offer incentives such as low-interest loans to encourage new development.

Yolanda Takesian, county project manager for the Odenton Town Plan, said the private sector is the driving force behind the plan.

"The county is not building [the] town center," she said. "It'll take a great deal of work from the community and developers to make it noticeable."

The new Odenton Town Plan the County Council approved this month encompasses 1,600 acres and tries to weave the old railroad town, Fort Meade and two new planned developments with about 8,000 homes into one community. County officials project the population in this "growth management area" will swell from 45,000 to 75,000 over the next 20 years.

The plan relies on homeowners, merchants and developers to carry out most of the changes such as road improvements, sidewalks and construction of more attractive facades. It also incorporates the 1968 "town center" zoning that would make it easier for developers to build within a targeted area for a mixture of uses -- shops, movie theaters, offices and apartments.

But development plans are by nature difficult to follow.

"Any time you try to project the future it is a very inexact science," said Gordon Bonham, director of the Center for Suburban and Regional Studies at Towson State University. "It's an attempt to make sure you don't have a decline to put some kind of order into that growth."

The only project proposed for the designated growth area is a 200,000-square-foot shopping center at routes 32 and 175. The project, in the works for a decade, was to open in 1992, but the developers did not meet federal wetlands standards. The developer and owners are revamping their plans, said Jason Jacobson, vice president of Osprey Investment, the Annapolis developer for the project.

Despite the slow start of Odenton's makeover, Mr. Griemsmann said that he is optimistic the second time around. "It will come to pass," he said. "Odenton is the hottest place in the state."

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