Buy land that’s in the right place, financial analysts often say, and investors know why: Because they’re not making any more of it.
The word “they,” in this case, can be applied to Anne Arundel County, since it’s not zoning much more acreage for residential projects since the county is, well, running out of raw, developable land — except for in a large expanse of West County.
The mention of a large expanse in West County normally evokes images of the [finally] up-and-coming Odenton Town Center, with the recent completion of multiple apartment projects and the addition of a Giant grocery store, and its just updated master plan.
However, the part of West County that is in question herein isn’t the Town Center, but another section of the historic railroad town that abuts the southeast end of Fort Meade and starts at a certain spot on the map.
You’ve certainly heard of Odenton, but have you ever heard of Woodwardville?
‘The Back Way’
The Woodwardville area starts where Piney Orchard Parkway ends, at the Patuxent River, and the same road continues as Patuxent Road. After driving by an obscure back entrance to the post named 5th Avenue that runs under the MARC railroad tracks, Patuxent Road curves to the left to reveal the tiny village, which offers drivers-by a snapshot of a National Register District running through increasingly populated Anne Arundel County.
Woodwardville is really a scattergun village of about a dozen private residences with a small church, which harkens back to an Anne Arundel County that most of its present residents never knew.
Upon entering Woodwardville, however, the drive-through is almost already over, and Patuxent Road becomes what it’s been called by some locals for decades — simply “the back way,” or the start of the approximately two-mile trek from Woodwardville to Conway Road, where one can make a left turn toward Crofton; more recently, that very route also became the way to make a right turn toward the newly planned 2,000-home community of Two Rivers.
And within that expanse on Patuxent Road are the entrance to the proposed landfill site, the occasional single family home and a couple of businesses, and not much else. That’s where some of that residential development could rise.
While Anne Arundel County Planning & Zoning Officer Larry Tom said that there are no immediate plans for another development, it’s what County Executive Steve Schuh, in an interview in last month’s edition of The Business Monthly with Len Lazarick, said “is going to be the fastest growing part of Anne Arundel County,” and estimated that about 8,000 more homes and a new library would be built in that general area during the next several years.
“Nobody knows about it; it’s a sleepy little part of Anne Arundel,” he said.
And that estimation makes sense, when one looks at an overhead map. Much of the rest of the county is fully developed; while there is ample land south of Route 214 in South County, it will stay predominantly rural, with no water or sewer infrastructure and 20-acre lots for homes.
Odenton, By Name
While Woodwardville has been something of a catch-all term for some of the locals when they refer to the expanse between Piney Orchard and Conway Road, much of that area, including Two Rivers, has an Odenton mailing address.
So Odenton it is, according to the United States Postal Service. But whatever the public wants to call it, there are some people who wonder if as many as 8,000 more homes will ever be built in that part of West County.
“Woodwardville is a National Register District, so no changes can be made there unless improvements are made,” said Bob Johnston, vice president of government affairs with the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors, who added that the entire route has the county designation as a Scenic and Historic Road. “That will become Piney Orchard Parkway extended at some point, but after many political discussions, as well as addressing the wetland issue.”
Indeed, the overhead view of the area on Google Maps reveals numerous wetlands, which is not an unusual circumstance in Anne Arundel County and can make obtaining permits challenging (since developers not only have to work with the county, but often the Critical Area Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers).
Johnston’s view was echoed by Claire Louder, president and CEO of the West County Chamber.
“One problem with the area spanning from Piney Orchard to Two Rivers is its high water table,” she said. “Much of the land in that area is not developable, due to its many streams. Parts of Patuxent Road [which is in a flat area, between the Patuxent and Little Patuxent rivers] are plagued by frequent flooding, which most recently occurred during Winter Storm Jonas.”
That View From Above
Johnston, however, explained why enthusiasm remains among builders for that part of West County.
“There was talk of a west county bypass of Route 3, from Route 97 to Route 50, at one point during the Route 3 Task Force [in the late ’90s],” he said, “but the issues with the wetlands and the needed involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers arose then, too.
“If you were looking at a map, you would say that’s where the [officials] had to go to build a bypass,” Johnston said, noting that former state Sen. Janet Greenip once suggested that an area near Two Rivers (long before the area was proposed) would be a good place to add a MARC train station. “But [local officials] don’t always account for the wetlands. For that reason, I think it would be extremely challenging to build several thousand more homes in that area.”
Johnston pointed out that Two Rivers is a Planned Unit Development that got special zoning, and he feels that much of any new construction that comes through the pipeline “has to be in the Two Rivers development area. Anything else has to be zoned, parcel by parcel.”
Owen McEvoy, Schuh’s spokesman, acknowledged that Schuh is obviously aware of the infrastructure and wetlands challenges, and the county executive’s office is still looking ahead. “The general plan is for most of [the additional development] to be around Two Rivers. Some people at a recent county council [meeting]laughed at us for wanting to put a library in that area, but that is where the growth will be.”
If anything outside of the Two Rivers arises in that general vicinity, new projects “would need water and sewer, plus it would have to be added to the general development plan, which is typically updated nearly every 10 years,” said Johnston, and is “only occasionally amended.”
Count the Rooftops
Harry Blumenthal, partner with the Annapolis law firm of Blumenthal, Delavan, Powers & Palmer, has represented the builders of Two Rivers since its original layout several years ago and sees the future coming, however. He predicted that, “Even with the older folks [living in Two Rivers, which is an age-restricted community], the whole complexion of the area will change.
“The roads are adequate for now,” Blumenthal said, “but what I see happening is the retrofitting of shopping areas that are 30 years old [like the recently renovated Crofton Station, which is about two miles from Two Rivers] in anticipation” of a population boom, which Schuh estimated will eventually boost the county’s population from about 550,000 to 600,000. “You need an urban synergy where if you get enough rooftops, commercial rises off of that.”
However, there is a seldom discussed issue that he maintains will cause problems down the road.
“Most of the groundwater throughout the county, for shallow individual wells, is terrible. I’ve been saying for years that the lack of potable water, ultimately,” Blumenthal said, “will stifle development everywhere there is not sufficient county water available.”