Getting to The Pointe; Expansion: Owings Mills New Town may not be just as its developers planned, but its success is leading to more construction.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When you turn onto Lakeside Boulevard, what you will see is a tree-lined thoroughfare that at day's end is lined with yuppie joggers, making the trek from one end of Owings Mills New Town to the other.

But try to follow the road to its namesake and there will be no such luck.

Turn onto Groffs Mill Drive -- another main artery that runs through the community -- and the village strip center greets residents with everything the planners said would be there. An athletic club. Restaurant. Grocery store. Liquor store. There's Starbucks, Blockbuster and McDonald's among them. There's the day-care center and dueling pools with clubhouse nestled nearby.

But 13 years ago, there were other, more sophisticated ideas for Lakeside -- the original name for Owings Mills New Town.

Besides the lake and its proposed boating facilities, there were going to be a series of high-rise residential towers with waterfront views. There was talk of a hotel and conference complex and even a police station to serve the approved 5,500 homes in this 430-acre northwest Baltimore County community.

James and Terry Rubenstein, the original developers, envisioned a community that would carry a flavor similar to The Village of Cross Keys. Cross Keys "has the feeling that we believe Lakeside ought to have and the success it ought to have," James Rubenstein said in an interview in 1987.

Today, as the final phase of New Town -- called The Pointe -- begins to take shape, the question is, did the $400 million, 3,500-unit community fulfill its destiny?

"The market today is not what it was 10 years ago," said Carmen Gilmore, marketing director for New Town since 1992. "But it turned out to be pretty close to what everybody was talking about years ago, which is absolutely phenomenal to have come as close to the original plan as it has."

The New Town tale has many twists and turns, and no one today would say it carries the same urban ambience as Cross Keys, but it's apparent that the vision of Owings Mills New Town remains as clear today as when it was planned almost two decades ago.

"All the millions of dollars New Town spent to create that lifestyle is now paying off," said T. Kevin Carney, president of Thomas Builders, which is building first-floor master bedroom, carriage-style homes in The Pointe.

"People like [New Town] and they don't want to go outside. There is a lifestyle that is created in New Town. It's like Columbia, but it is Baltimore's answer to Columbia in that it is close to the mall. It is close to the Metro. It is close to all the new office buildings and the Red Run corridor growth area. Clean, quiet and convenient.

"All the money that has been well spent to create that lifestyle for the people in New Town is paying off. They see it is all in place."

Even Terry Rubenstein, who with James lost direct control of the development when their now defunct company, Bancroft Homes Inc., ran into financial difficulties in 1988, reflected on it with a sense of accomplishment.

"It is exactly the way we have planned it, and we are proud that what seemed like a wild and crazy idea has turned out to be a wonderful community," said Rubenstein, who with her husband was retained by California-based Ahmanson Residential Development -- which purchased the property -- to manage the development until 1997. "It is delightful and wonderful to see that the actual plans and names and concepts are going to be finished."

Missing lake and school

For all of its success, the early loss of the lake and the uncertain timetable of building an elementary school helped to change the face of the community.

Originally, planners had hoped to dam Red Run stream. But the Army Corps of Engineers never gave formal approval and Baltimore County abandoned the idea in 1992. It wasn't until earlier this year that ground was finally broken for New Town Elementary.

"I wouldn't use the word that it hurt the personality. It didn't hurt it, it changed it into something much different," said Fritzi Hallock, president of MarketSmart, an Owings Mills-based consulting firm used by builders. "It changed it from something that textbooks could have been written about. It could have been very revolutionary, very exciting and very people-friendly. Another city. Another downtown.

"What we have instead is a concentrated suburban node. So the development is single-family homes, townhouses, apartments, condominiums with shopping center," she said.

"The lake going away impacted much more than Owings Mills New Town," Gilmore said. "It actually impacted Owings Mills proper Baltimore County was looking to the lake to be a focal point, to be the downtown area."

But Carney figures that not having the lake may have worked to the community's benefit.

"The lake would have justified higher density [with the high-rises], and the owners of New Town would say that they didn't make the kind of [investment] return they should have made, had they had the higher density," Carney said.

"But the truth of the matter is that it would have made it too urban of a product, and right now it is a quite successful, first-class suburban development."

Terry Rubenstein, now executive director for the Joseph Meyerhoff Charitable Funds, was expecting to build more single-family detached homes within the development. But without a school physically visible to families, as well as builders, the detached homes gave way to rows of townhouses.

"Part of the reason there are so many townhouses is because that is what the market was willing to buy," she said.

"I think if the schools had been built earlier, as we hoped they would be, it would have changed the tone of the community immediately. More families would have bought. We would have been able to sell more detached single-family housing to builders because there would have been more demand for single-family housing."

As it turned out, the north part of New Town became exclusively townhouses and condominiums.

"We could put out single-family detached lots, but we wouldn't have a builder to buy them. The builders only wanted to build townhouses and condominiums because that seemed to be what was selling. And part of that was because the schools weren't in place."

On to The Pointe

For the most part, New Town has followed form, and even back in the early stages planners were talking about The Pointe. But instead of a mix of elevator and garage condominiums, townhouses and carriage homes, which is now the plan, The Pointe in the mid-1980s was to have been where the three residential towers rose 40 stories.

Gilmore said planners were challenged to develop something that would take New Town to a different level.

"We were very well aware of the fact that we needed to create another identity, which is why we are doing something different here that we haven't done in other areas," Gilmore said.

When residents drive to The Pointe they will be greeted with "large curved walls" on each side of the entrance, and a gazebo. The boulevard will be lined with trees and there will be a "Central Park" -- a green space with hiking and biking trails.

There are four products being offered at the 50-acre, 300-home site, and Gilmore said that plans are in the works for three other communities to be added in the next few years:

Thomas Builders is constructing 55 low-maintenance single-family "carriage homes," priced from the $180,000s, that unite two homes at the garage.

Beazer Homes of Maryland, formerly Trafalgar House, is planning 60 garage courtyard condominiums, from $92,990, based on its successful Hollington development in an earlier section of New Town.

And Ryan Homes is building 89 elevator condominiums (priced in the $90,000 range) as well as 86 townhouses that begin in the $120,000 range.

"I think it will have an exclusive feel to it and that is the way I am presenting it, an exclusive part of New Town," said Sydni Samuels, a sales manager with Beazer. "The Central Park just makes it special. I think it will be real good for us."

"It's a natural progression of things," Gilmore said. "Here it is the ninth year for Owings Mills New Town [and] we've had occasions where people have said, 'Owings Mills New Town was completed years ago.' This way we are creating an identity for this last phase at The Pointe. We are not done yet."

Carney said it took him two years to develop his "carriage-home" concept, a design he says is "one-of-a-kind" and meets an ever-growing niche -- the empty-nester.

"I don't want to use terms like duplexes or split-foyers, because although they may be attached as a duplex, they aren't duplexes," Carney said of the 42-foot-wide homes on 60-foot-wide lots.

"It's a lifestyle product that New Town has attracted, that I am trying to capture with this combination of carriage home designs that I have, and I think I have captured it based on the profile of people who have come in the sales trailer so far," said Carney, who added that since his trailer has been open 34 people have come through and that 16 were between 45 and 65 and the rest are younger.

The Pointe, said Carney, "is one of those locations where New Town has finally matured and is attracting the cross-section of demographics, from older people right through to the first-time homebuyers."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
50°