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.”