Hopes are high that construction will soon begin on the long-discussed parking garage at Odenton Town Center. (TBM /Mark R. Smith)

For Jay Winer, president of A.J. Properties, the wait for Odenton Town Center to blossom into the thriving transit-oriented development it was planned to be 50 years ago has been most frustrating. The most recent issue has been the decadelong delay in building the parking garage on the MARC station’s south lot.

But then, so has finding a home for the mural that used to adorn the foyer at Nevamar Co., which Winer’s family founded in the then-rural suburb several decades ago.

But while many projects around Odenton ― including Arundel Mills, the Waugh Chapel mixed-use complex and Annapolis Junction Town Center ― have all come to successful fruition, Odenton Town Center has only risen in fits and starts.

Construction of the potential 1,000-space parking garage, which is to be funded by tax increment financing, is planned to begin in 2025.

Wherefore art?

While the saga of the garage seems to finally be working itself out, Winer also wants to reinstall the mural.

“We and (area developer) George Carras have spent at least $35,000 to store the mural for years,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Anne Arundel County Public Library, the county government (which did not respond to a request for an interview for this article in time for The Business Monthly’s deadline) and our legislative representatives don’t seem to be willing or able to fund its reinstallation in the Odenton Library.”

Winer, who “even offered to kick in some more cash,” said that “millions and millions of dollars are socked away in the Odenton TIF, but with nothing to spend it on. The county says they can’t use TIF funds for that purpose, but I wonder what they’re saving it for,” he said, “when developers pay directly for public improvements, anyway.”

Enabling development

The other reason the garage is so important “is that this is a Town Center. The north parking lot was never meant to permanently be for parking,” he said. “That’s for high-density development.”

The garage, which will rise in the south lot across from Ruth’s Chris Steak House, may look differently than initially planned, due to the changes of the pandemic years. “The first level could end up including some other uses, like retail and public spaces,” Winer said.

And that, he said, is where the mural comes in. “Art is an important part of our culture, like the railroad and the local business community,” he said, noting his family’s long ownership of the National Plastics Co., which was eventually purchased by Exxon and became Nevamar.

As for the garage, Anne Arundel County Councilperson Julie Hummer (District 4) noted updates to the Odenton Town Center Master Plan, with the vote on the final bill on Feb 5. Highlights include restrictions on what percentage of the property has to be commercial.

Easing that restriction, Hummer said, will mean “more flexibility for building different kinds of projects.

“Still, we need to spur residential development since it’s a transportation hub,” she said, “and if we have the housing, we’ll attract the business, too ― as will, we hope, the garage. We also want to make it more walkable with a new park beside the library, too.”

As is the case with many projects, “those involved can have grand plans, but financing and developer interest is what really impacts what gets done,” said Hummer. “For the Town Center, we have to have the developers come in” and take action.

“I know Jay and Stuart (Title, A.J.’s vice president) feel like things have been stalled for years,” she said, “and I agree with them 100%.”

The next hope is that “building permits for the garage will be ready by May,” she said, “with building starting in September 2025 and completion slated for December 2026.” 

What’s next?

Another reason for the long delay, said Del. Andrew Pruski (District 33A), is that some of the original costs were higher than expected. “On May 1, when (County Executive) Steuart Pittman releases the new county budget, we’ll get a better idea of the total cost via the county and the Maryland Economic Development Corp.”

Noting that he’s still hopeful of “the same 1,000 spaces,” Pruski is expecting “shovels in anywhere from 2-3 years.” He added that the nearby Odenton Volunteer Fire Co. has been approached about using its parking lot during construction.

Next comes the larger discussion, which concerns OTC’s surrounding properties “to see what other kind of development might work there, including affordable housing, within mixed-use development,” he said. As Fort Meade and the area “continue to grow, we’ll want people to live there and use transit.”

For now, Winer is hoping that some of the millions of dollars in TIF funding get used sooner rather than later. “What have they spent it on? Widening of Route 198 and that’s it,” he said. “None of it has gone to the Town Center.

“I keep expecting to see change. And nothing ever changes,” he said, noting he started working on the Town Center “when the county unveiled its first comprehensive development plan in 1971.”

And the plan today “is essentially the same as is was then,” he said. “All this has happened at Annapolis Junction Town Center, so why not here?”

Caption: Hopes are high that construction will soon begin on the long-discussed parking garage at Odenton Town Center.