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The entrance of the Owings Mills Metro Station, where some county officials hope looser development rules will encourage growth. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Bill would make Owings Mills transit development easier

A Baltimore County Council bill is seeking to encourage building Transit Oriented Developments in certain portions of Owings Mills, a style of development the measure’s supporters believe is the future in the area.

Councilman Julian Jones Jr. said the bill, which addresses the density and height of buildings allowed in the town center designated portion of the community, along with several other changes that range from parking requirements to the distance a building can be constructed near a highway, will help create a “downtown Owings Mills.” The legislation is scheduled for a vote on Monday.

“For the most part our regulations in the county is, and was, made for suburbia. And a Transit Oriented Development, in a lot of ways, runs against the grain with a lot of the little idiosyncrasies of the regulations, whether it be signs, height of signs, type of signs, all those types of things,” Jones said. “ So, what we’re trying to do, or what we’re doing, is making the regulations fit the Transit Oriented Development.”

Many traditionally suburban areas throughout the state, from Towson to Columbia to Bethesda, have been striving to encourage development with a more urban feel. That style of development places an emphasis on walkability and access to retail that appeals to the lifestyle preferences of Millennials, many of whom don’t find traditional suburban housing to be as an attractive option as do their parents and grandparents.

Maryland has also been encouraging building Transit Oriented Development, which it defines as ”a dense, mixed-use deliberately-planned development within a half-mile of transit stations that is designed to increase transit ridership,” with various incentives, including financing from the Maryland Economic Development Corp. Under former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley the state made a point of trying to encourage development around mass transit options to relieve congestion on state roadways and prevent sprawl.

Owings Mills has been a designated growth area in the county for the past two decades, and in recent years it became a hub of development based around the Owings Mills Station Metro stop, which connects the area with downtown Baltimore.

The largest mixed-use development in the area is David S. Brown Enterprises Metro Centre at Owings Mills. When that development is complete it will have 1.2 million square feet of office space, 300,000 square feet of office space and 1,700 residential units.

Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, said the jurisdiction has always supported the idea of mixed-use development and trying to take advantage of the opportunities presented by public and private partnerships.

“Certainly the county has always been supportive of Transit Oriented Development at Metro Centre,” Cohen said.

But not everyone believes that the changes proposed in the bill are such a great idea. Joshua Glikin, a Towson resident, opposes the bill because he believes it sets a dangerous precedent for zoning in the county. He argues that if the developer wants the changes in zoning it should have to go through the public Planned Unit Development process and acknowledge that what is being proposed is spot zoning.

“What they are doing is just atrocious,” Glikin said.

Jones said he supports the development because it has the ability to create a substantial number of jobs in the county and that he believes residents find living in a Transit Oriented Development to be a very attractive proposition.

“I want the development to go through. I think it’s good for the community,” Jones said.

About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.