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Special Report: Odenton's Apartment Boom

There are more than 1,300 apartment units under construction or planned for Odenton. Can the town support them all? And will they put a charge in efforts to bring in new retailers?

It has become a familiar sight in Odenton: large apartment buildings, rising along the town’s major thoroughfares.

There are 259 new units near the traffic circle, and another 369 units under construction along Telegraph Road. Over by the MARC station, 235 units are now available to lease.

All told, Odenton has more than 1,350 apartment units either newly built, under construction or in the development pipeline. Nearly all come with high rents and luxury amenities, and all are located within a three-mile stretch of one another.

Business leaders in Odenton said the apartment boom brings the promise of new residents, putting a charge into efforts to expand the town’s array of shops and restaurants.

But the community is also carefully watching how quickly the projects lease up, knowing that empty apartments would put the skids in the ongoing efforts to develop the Odenton Town Center.

Patch spoke with more than a dozen developers, real estate experts and residents about Odenton’s apartment boom, and found a mixture of excitement and skepticism.

What’s Being Built

The Odenton Town Center Plan Oversight Committee has recommended approval of six projects in the heart of town. Some are fully built and have residents living in them now. Others are still awaiting financing or final approval from the county's office of planning and zoning.

The projects include:

The Village at Odenton Station – 235 units, fully built and about halfway leased by the Dolben Co. Located near the MARC station, just off of Town Center Boulevard.

The Haven at Odenton Gateway – 252 units, also completely built and more than 70 percent leased by Johnson Development. Located along Annapolis Road near the traffic circle.

Flats170 at Academy Yard – 369 units under construction by Bozzuto Group. Expected to be complete next year with pre-leasing starting in the spring or summer of 2013. Located on Telegraph Road at the former Nevamar site.

Broadstone – 212 units by Alliance Residential, awaiting final approval from county planners. Located at Baldwin and Nevada avenues, adjacent to the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company.

Novus Residences – 239 units awaiting final approval from county planners. Also located near the fire hall, at Nevada Avenue and Hale Street.

Berger Square – 48 “workforce” units from Homes for America, with construction slated for next fall. Located on Berger Street near Annapolis Road.

With the exception of Berger Square, all of these apartment complexes identify themselves with the “luxury” label. Units come with high-end features like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. On-site amenities include saltwater pools, theater rooms with flat-screen televisions, spacious clubhouses and workout centers.

They also come with high rents. A one-bedroom apartment at the Haven at Odenton Gateway or Village at Odenton Station can go for more than $1,700 a month, rivaling a mortgage payment for a house.

But so far, leasing has been strong, with the Haven seeing more than 70 percent of its apartments leased. The Village at Odenton Station, which began leasing up more recently, is more than half filled.

“These are people who could afford a home payment but are choosing the apartment lifestyle because it’s more convenient for them,” said Claire Louder, president and CEO of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

Reasons for the Boom

Developers and real estate experts point to several factors driving the pace of apartment construction in Odenton. First, vacancy rates in apartments had been very low for years, often forcing people to look elsewhere for places to rent. And then in 2010, more than 5,000 jobs came to Fort Meade as a result of the base realignment and closure activities. Many of these jobs come with good paychecks. (An average salary at the Defense Information Systems Agency, for instance, is near $100,000.)

That influx of jobs coincided with a housing market that had not yet recovered from a major collapse two years earlier. While interest rates on homes have been low, banks have remained conservative in their lending practices. Thus, the community has seen many residents capable of making high monthly payments but still unable to secure a mortgage loan.

“We are still benefiting from the shift in renters vs. buyers and predict that the surplus of folks choosing apartment living over home purchase will continue,” said Jeff Kayce, a vice president with Bozzuto, which is constructing the Flats170 project.

Moreover, developers also found themselves asking a simple question: “What else would we build?” While financing for apartments is hardly easy to come by, it's not impossible. With the for-sale housing and retail markets soft, there was a period when apartments were the only things developers felt inclined to pursue.

Can it Last?

Officials in Odenton predict that the Village at Odenton Station and Haven at Odenton Gateway will be fully leased by early next year. But that will still leave roughly 800 more units to fill as other projects come out of the ground. Is it too many units, too fast?

“We’re not going to second-guess the market,” said James Fraser, chairman of the town center oversight committee. “People are spending a lot of money and they’re not going to spend a lot of money unless they think it can work.

Fraser pointed out that some projects may receive approval from the planning office, but fail to get financing. Others, he said, could always be converted to for-sale condominiums if market conditions changed.

Developers said their market research suggests more people will be moving to the area due to continue growth at Fort Meade. The National Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command and other agencies are expected to add as many as 15,000 jobs in the next few years, and many of those people will want to live close by.

“We need new housing given the expected growth and proximity to jobs,” said Ellen Miller, a principal with StonebridgeCarras, which has partnered with Bozzuto on the Flats170 project. “We are fortunate that Maryland is a prime beneficiary of federal government activity and employment opportunities even in these challenging times, and that the area focus on communications/cyber security, et cetera, remains a federal priority.”

That said, some business leaders said developers may shy away from presenting any new apartment projects to town, at least until they see how the existing projects lease up.

“I actually did have a conversation with a new developer the other day, and I said ‘hmmm, it might be time to start looking at townhomes,’” Louder said.

The Positives of New Residents

Rather than dwell on the ability of apartment owners to secure leases, Fraser said he preferred to look positively at the potential for thousands of new residents to the area.

“I’m happy that we’re going to get the residential density,” he said. “I’m not worried about it. I think the more people we can get into the town center the better we are. That’s my whole goal, to bring people there so that we can get retailers to follow.”

Most of the apartment projects are being constructed as part of broader plans that eventually involve retail spaces. The Village at Odenton Station, for instance, includes a large, street-level retail space that will feature restaurants and stores. The Haven at Odenton Gateway is on the same site as a CVS, Patient First and new medical office building.

“We’re starting to get a density of residential that will bring in the retail that the community has been yelling about," Louder said. "That’s the real positive.”

Chris W December 10, 2012 at 02:46 AM
This has been in the planning stages for decades. The BRAC process just finally kick started the process.
Carol B December 10, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Yes--at least since I moved here--when there were going to be 10,000 new residents that never materialized. (Lord knows what they would have done, with the utter lack of infrastructure expansion "in the planning," if they had!) Instead of home values increasing the way we were promised they were going to do when all of these new people arrived, they're lower than ever (though the sales of homes by people who arrived here in 2005 or so, at the peak of the real estate bubble, and who are now at their wits' end trying to pay ridiculous mortgages on dwindling or absent incomes has increased). Others are escaping before the chaos hits, taking what profits they can out of houses with some equity in them. Things have changed--but the plans so long in place proceeded as if they hadn't. That doesn't show much concern, or respect, for the welfare of the existing residents.
Chris W December 10, 2012 at 10:49 AM
No. Your mixing the problems that happened everywhere because of the housing market and BRAC. One can argue that we had it easy here because of BRAC. The bottom line is there was a bubble and it popped. That has nothing to to with BRAC.( No townhouse is worth $500,000. )
Michele December 10, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Odenton was named by the County as a town center in 1968 so it has taken more than 40 years for the "virtual overnight urbanization". Many of the developments have been waiting decades to come out of the ground due to a variety of constraints and it is finally happening with BRAC as a catalyst. A. J. Properties continues to be involved in working to bring about solutions to continue moving broad scope plans forward. Approx 7 million sq ft of new space is planned. View the map (tour.mapsalive.com/22579/page2) and hover over the pushpins to discover what is planned for the area at present. [Blue still awaiting completion; red completed.] If you haven’t already done so, take time to view the Odenton Town Center video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQYmmC0_jao); this map along with the video should give you an idea of the explosive growth we’re poised to receive.
Bryant January 11, 2013 at 09:13 PM
I think the Odenton Town Center complex is perfect and just what we need. Integrated retail and residential zoning instead of the sprawl that covers the region so profusely. Most of us live in town homes where walkability is a joke. Seriously, when was the last time you walked anywhere? Drive to the store, drive to pick up the kids and drive to work, all completely out of necessity because we have absolutely no population density; that's what causes congestion. A densely populated apartment complex integrated with a center of shops is actually a perfect solution. They might clog 175 getting home but once that retail center fills up, they'll walk to the liquor store, walk to the dry cleaner's, the day care, and eat out locally. Also, for those that wax moronic about how we should build up roads have no idea what you're talking about. Without fail, more roads leads to more congestion. It's called induced traffic demand and is very well documented. We have to build smarter and this is so much better than suburban sprawl. Why is it that in order to sit down for a nice meal it seems like I have to drive to Waugh Chapel (8 miles) or Arundel Mills (5 miles)?

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