Retail has arrived at the 500-acre Maple Lawn Farms development near Fulton.

Quiznos sandwich shop has opened its doors at a one-story commercial building near the main entrance off Route 216. Soon to follow are women's apparel retailer Urban Chic and the seafood restaurant Trapeze, owned by the same folks who run Bluestone restaurant in Timonium.

Two more commercial centers are planned for the development as it transforms from a dairy and turkey farm to a place where people can live, work and play, as developer Stewart Greenebaum describes it.

Greenebaum plans to break ground next week on one of these centers and hopes to do the same for another in June. The first building is 40 percent leased, and the other is about 75 percent leased, he said. Both are near the main entrance to the complex.

"Ultimately, we will have 2 million square feet [of commercial space] in the next eight to 10 years," Greenebaum said.

The Maple Lawn development has been controversial. The idea was to create a mix of housing, retail and office space that would "dethrone the automobile," allowing people to live and relax near where they work, Greenebaum said.

In 2000, the Howard County Zoning Board narrowly approved Greenebaum's request to build 1,116 homes and 1.2 million square feet of office and retail space. This year, it also allowed Greenebaum to tack on 94 acres to the complex.

But the board denied Greenebaum's request to add 242 senior housing units and 52 houses to the development.

"That's not final," he said.

Forty-two homes are occupied, and 120 are under construction, Greenebaum said.

Less Vacant Office Space

Maple Lawn Farms, is contributing "the largest delivery of new office space outside of Columbia," according to a report released by commercial real estate company Manekin LLC in Columbia.

The report also said office vacancies in Howard County have dropped over the past few years as the economy has rebounded from the tech crash.

Vacancies fell from 11 percent last year to 9 percent today.

Grace Takes a Hit From Storms

The recent spate of hurricanes in the Gulf Coast wreaked havoc on Columbia-based W.R. Grace & Co.

Both Katrina and Rita slowed production of the nation's refineries, which in turn slowed Grace's third-quarter sales of certain chemicals used to refine oil.

The slowdown is likely to affect fourth-quarter sales as well, said the company, which has been operating under bankruptcy protection since 2001.

But Grace's overall sales were up 12.7 percent, reaching $653.4 million in the third quarter. And Grace remained profitable, though profits were smaller than in the quarter a year ago, $32.1 million (or 48 cents a share) down from $48 million (72 cents).

Rita also crippled production at the company's manufacturing plant in Lake Charles, La. The hurricane caused power outages there that shut down the facility for two weeks. It also wrecked the homes of many of the 345 employees who work there.

"We satisfied all customer demands during that period of time through production in other sites in the U.S. and Germany and through supplies we had on hand outside the Gulf Coast region," said Robert M. Tarola, the company's chief financial officer.

As for the employees in Lake Charles, the company started a relief fund that had attracted $121,590 in October. Grace sank $100,000 into the effort and plans to match contributions up to an additional $150,000.

The company said it has also worked with government agencies to secure short-term housing at the plant and set up a kitchen that is offering meals for employees and those living on site.

The fund is organized as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization.

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