Now that the retail domain known as Arundel Mills is intertwined in the lives of many corridor residents, it's interesting to imagine what the vast expanse of land where the mall sits could have been used for.
It could have been used for a regional music amphitheater or an office park. It could have been the site of a NASCAR track or even Lego Land.
But what Arundel Mills really is, said Michael Caruthers, president of Somerset Construction Company in Bethesda, is "an infill project between BWI Airport and the National Security Agency, made possible by Route 100."
While Caruthers said the completion of Route 100 allowed for the mall's construction, it can be said that the Baltimore-Washington Parkway entrance to Arundel Mills Boulevard is facilitating ArundelPreserve, a mixed-use commercial project that Caruthers, economic development officials, and leaders of the surrounding communities feel will become a showcase of the development genre.
"The idea," Caruthers said, "is to allow local residents to work, shop, and play in the same area. That increases quality of life, while having as little impact on the surrounding communities as possible."
An Ambitious Plan
That thought has Anne Arundel Economic Development Authority CEO Bill Badger excited about the possibilities ArundelPreserve presents. "First of all, it's a very high-end project that we hope will be part of the quality development around Arundel Mills, once the infrastructure is in place."
Explaining that the project wouldn't have been possible without the parkway entrance, he imagines it as "a showcase for the future of mixed-use development in the county."
Badger made a parallel between his hopes for the project and the new-ish Village at Waugh Chapel in Gambrills, where retail, residential, and office development were successfully fused, with significant input from the community.
The Revitz and Greenberg families made their first purchase of the land in 1961 and bought more of what eventually became 1,100 acres of its portfolio as it became available. Caruthers became involved in the mid-'70s and is a principal today. The Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the west, Clark Road to the east, and Arundel Mills Boulevard to the north bind the triangle-shaped ArundelPreserve piece of the property. It has been zoned mixed-use employment for about a year.
Having the land paid off was crucial in this case, Caruthers continued. "With a big project, debt kills everyone, because it's hard to keep up with the interest curve. But not having debt allows thoughtful decision-making, instead of knee-jerk reactions."
ArundelPreserve's 270 acres will include 50 single-family homes, 370 town-homes (all with two-car garages) and 500 apartments, plus two million square feet of office and about 150,000 square feet of retail space, including a hotel, and 100 acres of trees. Milestone Parkway is designed as a mile-long linear park leading through the Preserve.
Caruthers didn't think any builder in the United States had the experience to build residential, office, and retail, so he took the team approach and brought in companies that he feels do the finest work in their disciplines: Corporate Office Properties Trust for the commercial buildings, Toll Brothers to build the single-family homes, and Bozzuto & Associates for the multi-family dwellings. While he's eager to make the vision of ArundelPreserve a reality, he, unlike many developers, has spent years working with community organizations to ensure the project benefits as many parties as possible.
Marie Cook is president of the Arundel Mills Task Force and has known Caruthers for a decade. "We have at times disagreed, but he's always been straight with me and has worked with the Harmans Civic Association for generations," she pointed out. Cook is high on the project. "I believe this will be a mixed-use development that other areas will attempt to duplicate, but won't be able to, due to the group of people he has working with him. He has the cream of the crop. And no one will be able to maintain the standard he sets. The bar is always set high."
Caruthers seems to know when to take "no" for an answer. "When he's brought things to the community we haven't been pleased with, he goes back to the drawing board. That's rare in a developer," continued Cook, who knows as well as anyone else that he could have put a Target on the property if he'd felt like it. "Most developers are only concerned about what makes the most money for them and say 'too bad' if the locals don't like it."
Anne Arundel County Council Member Pamela Beidle (D-1) is also impressed with the plans for ArundelPreserve and trusts Caruthers to provide a good example of what mixed-use should be. "Also, it's my understanding that the office space will have a tenant the county will be very pleased about," Beidle said. "Using most of the commercial space for Class-A office and a hotel to support that potential user would be excellent."
With the area west of the parkway being left for permanent conservation, there will be 75 acres that buffer the project from the Jessup community. "He could build at a much higher density than he is and make a lot more money. Also, he's retaining partial ownership, which will make the project better. I really think ArundelPreserve will be a wonderful example of what mixed-use can be."
Cook is also appreciative that Caruthers is taking such painstaking measures to ensure the quality of the project. "He's viewing it from the perspective of someone who's driving through. It's costing him a lot of money to do it this way," she echoed, "but it'll be a development we can be proud of."
The Faux Group of Annapolis is the master planner. "We've worked very hard to create a specific identity for the entire project," said President Patricia Faux. "This is the first mixed-use employment development in the county, and likewise a new development approval process. So, we're on the cutting edge here."
Noting that the linear park along Milestone Parkway will be a very important feature, with its multi-purpose path, various gathering areas, and other amenities like gazebos and art sculptures, Faux underscored what a unique live/work setting ArundelPreserve will be.
Giving and Taking
Faux said the hope is for county approval this fall, with the various development groups hoping to get their first digs in next year, with zoning secured and the concept development plan approval having been requested.
Caruthers is eagerly awaiting the big day. "We've always felt that ArundelPreserve will be a gateway for the property," he said, noting that there was actually a deal with Trammell Crow to build a Class-A office park in 1990. "But we've long resisted other uses, since we felt that they were not the best use."
He made the point that Somerset Construction Company is not averse to making money. "But when you have that much ground," he concluded, "you have a responsibility to the county and that community."