The master plan is essentially the handbook that directs what kind of development can go where in Odenton. But in the case of the North Patuxent project, there is a disagreement over what the master plan requires and allows, especially in the town’s historic area.
Here’s our attempt to explain the recent debate and offer background on the master plan and its provisions.
Background on the Odenton Town Center Master Plan
The master plan was first created after the county designated Odenton as a town center decades ago. It was most recently revised in 2009 and is due for another revision in 2014.
The plan divides Odenton into seven zoning areas. Each of those areas has different development requirements and guidelines. In general, the plan encourages projects that have a mix of uses, including housing and commercial space. It also encourages dense development and multi-story buildings, though guidelines vary depending on the area.
The Odenton Town Center Plan Oversight Committee, which meets monthly, reviews all development projects in the town center for compliance with the plan. However, it is only an advisory board; the county office of planning and zoning decides whether or not to approve a project.
North Patuxent and “The Village”
The proposed project from Elm Street Development featuring 48 townhouses and three single-family homes is located in a section of the master plan known as “The Village.” It is a section of town located south of Annapolis Road and stretching from King Malcolm Avenue to Route 32, and includes the MARC Station.
Within The Village is the Odenton Historic District, which includes much of the North Patuxent neighborhood.
The master plan notes that The Village and the historic district include some of the most historic parts of town, with four properties listed in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. Local historians say it is a living example of what a railroad town looked in the early 20th century.
“This traditional center of the community is envisioned as a place to live, work, and shop while maintaining the historic village character and residential feel,” the master plan reads.
According to the plan, new development in “The Village” can be as much as four stories high with a floor-to-area ratio (FAR) of 1.0. (The North Patuxent project will have three-story townhouses and is proposed to have a FAR of 0.5.)
One on hand, the plan says that developers can build tall residential buildings in The Village. But in other sections, the plan also says that development in The Village must mesh with the neighborhood, which has mostly single-family homes.
“Due to the historic character of The Village, scale, massing, and rooflines of new development must be consistent with the existing character, so that vistas throughout the area are consistent with The Village character,” the plan reads in section 10.2.
Section 9.0 of the master plan also addresses the historic district.
“All construction in the Odenton Town Center Historic District shall be compatible with the historic character and design of the area,” the plan reads.
It goes on to say that “Large new buildings shall be designed as a series of masses or building elements compatible with the immediate neighborhood.”
The Board of Appeals’ Role
County planners approved a sketch plan for Elm Street’s project along with some modifications, saying that the developer did a good job of ensuring plans can mesh with the historic nature of the area. But the Odenton Heritage Society has appealed the decision, arguing that townhouses, by their very nature, don’t fit in with the neighborhood.
The Board of Appeals began hearing testimony in the case Tuesday and has hearings scheduled into November and December.
The key questions facing the board include:
- Are sections of the master plan in conflict with one another? If so, which section should be followed?
- Are townhouses automatically not in keeping with the North Patuxent neighborhood? Or can concerns over cohesiveness be address through the building design and architecture?