THE STATE OF Maryland boasts mightily about its Transit Oriented Development (TOD) programs. Just don’t bother looking for much in the way of tangible results.
“Maryland has great TOD potential” brags the state on its transportation website. Dig a little deeper, though, and it turns into wishful thinking, not boots-on-the-ground achievements.
TODs are the ultimate in Smart Growth.
They turn transit stations into job-centered areas of dense, walkable neighborhoods in both cities and suburbs. Other towns, like Seattle and Denver, offer examples of how to do it. (For more on the potential of “transit villages” in Maryland, see my 2006 Goldseker Foundation report – “Five Years, Fifty Thousand Jobs,” page 13.)
The Baltimore-Washington region, unfortunately, offers examples of how to draw up great plans and watch them fall apart or gather dust.
That thought came to mind at a ribbon-cutting Monday for the state’s one true TOD – Owings Mills Metro Centre.
Brand New Neighborhood
What you see along Grand Central Avenue (see photo above) is a long row of apartment buildings on one side of a broad boulevard and a six-story, library-community college building on the other side flanked by a massive garage — soon to be doubled in size — and an office high-rise under construction.
All of this sits beside the Metro station that connects to downtown Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Hospital. On the east side of the tracks is a huge parking lot. This eventually will become part of the mixed-use TOD.
A brand-new neighborhood is being created where none existed before.
The rail station, library and community college are the draws. A short walk up the hill is a multiplex cinema, townhouses and an aging mall that, if reimagined properly, could extend the scope of this TOD. Just down the road is a large retail development in progress, centered around a Wegmans supermarket.
This TOD will boast a residential population of 2,500 with many more office workers populating the area during the work week. Shops and restaurants will occupy ground floor space. Over 11,000 community college students a year are expected to take day and night courses at the new Community College of Baltimore County campus, sharing facilities with the already popular library branch (the largest in the county at 54,000 square feet).
Persistence Pays Off
What made this a reality was the unwavering commitment of county officials, from Dutch Ruppersberger to Jim Smith to Kevin Kamenetz. They not only funded key infrastructure, they stuck to the vision of making the Owings Mills TOD primarily a residential community.
Instead of transplanting a state agency to a transit station – the state’s feeble stab at the New Carrollton TOD in Prince George’s County – Baltimore County insisted on a library and a community college. These are the sort of amenities people want to live near.
(Had officials taken the same approach at the stalled and deeply flawed State Center TOD in Baltimore – by turning the property into a large mid-town residential neighborhood with appealing attractions – there might have been only token opposition.)
The path to the Owings Mills ribbon cutting wasn’t easy. It proved long (well over a decade) and arduous, especially during the dark days of the Great Recession.
But the county persisted. Officials continued their dialogue with developer Howard Brown until the economics worked.
You can see the future emerging at the Owings Mills Metro. It’s what every TOD should look like.
It’s just a shame Maryland has been so slow catching on to what works, and doesn’t work, in making this valuable Smart Growth tool a success.
[To receive future columns by email, click the “SUBSCRIBE” button on the right-hand side of this page.]