Councilman will seek to block construction of Towson gas station

A key Baltimore County councilman said Wednesday that he will seek to block the construction of a Royal Farms gas station in Towson, a project that has faced vociferous opposition from the local community.

The gas station is one part of a larger project that would see a vacant firehouse on York Road redeveloped under a proposed $8.3 million dollar deal between the county and Caves Valley Partners.

"My job as a county councilman is to listen to the community and in this case to take action to bring some closure to an extraordinarily controversial issue," said David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson.

Marks initially supported moving forward with a review of the project as a planned unit development, which allows developers to build outside of zoning rules in exchange for an agreed-upon community benefit. The council approved the PUD in December.

Marks said he will introduce a resolution at the council's meeting next week that would put an end to the review for the gas station, blocking its construction.

There is no guarantee that the move will be successful. The council typically operates under a policy of deferring to the local member on issues that affect his or her district, but the development has had the strong backing of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat.

Asked where Kamenetz stood, aides to the county executive sent a statement from his chief of staff criticizing Marks.

"First he was for it," Chief of Staff Don Mohler said. "Now he's against it. Flip-flopping doesn't create jobs or spur economic development."

Even if two Republican members of the council backed Marks, he would need the vote of one Democrat willing to buck Kamenetz for the measure to pass.

Marks said he ran his proposal by other council members on Tuesday.

"I'll be optimistic," he said. "The County Council has typically been devoid of partisan politics, and I have no reason to suspect that will come into play here."

Bryan Fischer, the president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said the group has long opposed putting a gas station on the property.

"Councilman Marks deserves credit," Fischer said. "He's listened to his constituents in Towson.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Democrat, said she and her colleagues were still figuring out what to do. She acknowledged the strong tradition of what's called councilmanic courtesy but worried about the implications of intervening at this stage in the process.

"We've already voted to go ahead and do the PUD, so it's difficult I think to ask us to change after we've already voted on something," she said. "It's a very difficult thing to ask anyone to do."

Councilman Tom Quirk, another Democrat, likewise said he was reviewing the idea.

A Caves Valley representative could not be reached for comment.

County officials declined to say how they would respond to Marks' move. Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, derided the councilman for appearing to change his position on the project.

The project has been in the works for years. The council approved the sale of the property in late 2013. In addition to the gas station, Caves Valley plans to put up retail buildings on the site — a part of the project Marks said would not be affected by his resolution.

Neighbors have expressed concern that the gas station would be an environmental hazard, create traffic and be an unsightly welcome to Towson for motorists coming up York Road.

Marks billed his plan to block the gas station as bringing finality to a controversial issue that he said could end up mired in litigation for years to come. But it would also likely trigger a process of re-envisioning the project.

Marks said he supported beginning the review last year, but his position on the project has evolved. The uprooting of several trees on the property rankled, he said, and indicated to him that county authorities were not working in good faith.

"I believe this project is unsustainable and increasingly indefensible," Marks said.

County officials could not immediately be reached for a response late Wednesday.

Councilman Wade Kach, a Republican, said the removal of the trees was particularly troubling, and means he is leaning toward supporting Marks.

"To me what has happened is a direct violation of the PUD that was originally passed," he said. "And it makes me think, 'OK, if there's the will violate the PUD in that instance, what else that's been agreed upon is going to be violated?'"

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