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Construction to begin on expansion of Towson Circle development

Look for construction to soon begin on the expansion of the Towson Circle development on Joppa Road near the traffic circle.

Sources say this $35 million extension and redevelopment is ready to launch after several years of uncertainty because of the sagging economy.

The local development team from The Cordish Cos. is planning to turn the space once known as the Towson Hutzler’s department store into a “thriving lifestyle retail project,” according to their website.

Included in the project’s expansion will be a 14-screen multiplex cinema and new retail and office space in a pedestrian-friendly town square design.

Immediate plans call for demolition and site clearing of the vacant former 1st Mariner Bank building and Burger King restaurant on Joppa Road to make way for the growth. A Cordish spokeswoman declined to reveal specifics Thursday, saying instead “we’ll be making announcements shortly.”

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Want to connect with your inner William Donald Schaefer?

The late mayor was famous for driving around his hometown streets, taking notes where potholes, trash, broken street lights and other eyesores were located, and demanding repairs in so-called “action memos” sent to agency heads who understood the order to “do it now.”

Now, such vigilance is in the hands of citizens.

City Hall recently set up a mobile application so citizens can make “service requests” by uploading photos of urban nuisances directly to a call-in center. Such requests include: overgrown weeds, graffiti removal, illegal dumping and even suspicions of drug dealing and corner prostitution.

So get snapping, shutterbugs and Schaeferites!

The city’s 311 Mobile App is available for smart phones, and the technology allows the photos to be tagged and vetted with a GPS system, so city crews can go out and take care of matters.

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This week, Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes introduced legislation to create a charter amendment to cut the property tax rate in the city by 50 percent over the next five years.

If approved, the bill calls for voters to give it a thumbs up or down. For now, the proposal has been sent to the council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee for a hearing.

Stokes’ legislation calls for the city to lower property taxes by a minimum of 15 cents each year, beginning in 2013. The reductions would end in 2017, when the property tax rate hits $1.10 per $100 of assessed value. The current rate is $2.268 per $100 of assessed value, the highest in Maryland.

“Baltimore’s high property tax rate has become a major deterrent to living in the city,” Stokes said in a statement.

“Over the last decade we’ve lost more than 30,000 residents and [we] are the only jurisdiction in the state to lose population largely because of crime, a poor education system and enormous property taxes.  I’ve had consultations with economists, real estate experts, business leaders and homeowners who agree that my plan is economically viable and sound.”

The issue was debated during the recent mayoral race, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pledged on the stump to make property tax reduction in Baltimore a focus of her administration. In July, she proposed to divert revenue from a proposed slots parlor in the city to help reduce property taxes by 9 percent over a nine-year period.

Baltimore’s persistent problem of vacant real estate blight was featured on a national news website this week. The Huffington Post showed two photos of the city’s less than enchanting side Thursday.

In a news feature punctuated by a slideshow of decrepit housing and development in several U.S. cities including Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland, the vacant blots on the landscape that make up some of East Baltimore’s many abandoned rowhouses were highlighted. Check out the photos here.

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TIDBITS: Commercial RE brokers Marcus & Millichap recently closed a $4 million deal in Odenton on a two-acre property to house an M&T Bank branch. The property is located at 1351 Blair Dr. … Hogan Companies of Annapolis recently brokered the sale of 24 lots of Bayfront at Rehoboth Beach for $1.2 million. The 258-acre, 180  lot waterfront community overlooks Rehoboth Bay… Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate Services brokered a new lease for the Ivy Bookshop II LLC, in Lake Falls Village last month. The small, independent bookseller leases 2,271 square feet there and recently changed ownership… The maintenance Olympics? Continental Realty Corp. won 22 out of a possible 27 awards at the regional qualifying competition for the 2012 Maintenance Mania championship, sponsored each year by the Maryland Multi-Housing Association. The competition is held in several cities. It challenges maintenance and service technicians in things like installing door jams and refrigerator gaskets, replacing parts of a ceiling fan, swapping out a toilet fluid master and substituting a new CO detector. Continental’s Sam Gilley, who handles maintenance activities at Oaklee Village Apartments in Catonsville, placed first in the overall competition for the second straight year and Mike Hook, who works for Courthouse Square, finished second overall.

FOODIE WATCH: Sophie’s Crepes has opened up a new location on York Road across from the historic Senator Theatre … In Abingdon, the owners of a new Joe’s Crab Shack are putting finishing touches on their new location near the Wegmans on Route 924 … Ikaros Restaurant, a Greektown mainstay, is moving to a new location one block away on Eastern Avenue. The move, first reported in The Sun, will allow the brothers who own Ikaros to expand and modernize the well-worn eatery known for seafood, lamb and spinach pie.