Baltimore County Council tables vote on Towson Royal Farms Monday

The Baltimore County Council kept alive a developer’s plan to transform an old county fire station in Towson into a new development on Monday, by tabling a measure that likely would have killed it.

Towson-based Caves Valley Partners has a contract to buy the 5.8-acre property from the county for $8.3 million and has proposed building a Royal Farms gas station and retail center.

After months of community opposition, Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, proposed scaling back support for the project by banning gas pumps as part of the project.

But other members of the council voted to table Marks' resolution, saying they hope to convince Caves Valley to come up with a new plan.

"All parties are looking for a win-win solution for the community, a win-win solution for Royal Farms, a win-win solution for Caves Valley, and I think there is a way to go forward," said Council Chairman Tom Quirk, a Democrat who engineered the move after what he said were weeks of discussions with Caves Valley, Royal Farms and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Dozens of Towson residents filled the council chambers in hopes of seeing the council strike a blow to the project, known as Towson Station.

Instead, learning the project might live on, they marched out of the council chambers, with many people booing.

“You're a major disappointment! All of you!” one woman shouted. Another woman yelled: “You are corrupt.”

The vote to table Marks' resolution was 4-3, with Marks and two other Republicans voting against tabling. Quirk and the other three Democrats voted for tabling.

Tabling the resolution doesn't technically kill it, but it does signal the council does not want to vote on the issue.

Towson resident Peggy King said she was disappointed in the vote, saying it sends a message that “people in the Towson community do not matter.”

“You haven't listened to the community,” she told council members during a public comment portion of the meeting.

Steve Sibel, a partner with Caves Valley, also testified during the public comment period of the meeting. He criticized Marks for wanting to revisit the council's earlier support of the project. He said Marks has refused to meet with his company for the last several months, an assertion Marks disputed.

“We do stand ready to engage with the chairman, the other council members and the county executive to see if a solution can be reached that can reasonable satisfy all parties,” Sibel said.

Sibel and his attorneys declined to comment further.

In an interview, Marks said he has little confidence Caves Valley and the Kamenetz administration can come up with a workable development plan the community will support.

Sibel's comments “illustrate so eloquently why Caves Valley Partners is held in such disregard by many of my constituents,” Marks said.

Marks noted the county government cut down 30 trees on the property this spring, though he said that had been prohibited under the council's previous endorsement of the project. He said the destruction of the trees was the “tipping point” that led him to pull his support from the project.

Kamenetz’s chief of staff, Don Mohler, said in a statement that the county executive agreed to Quirk’s request to try to negotiate the elimination of the gas pumps.

Marks said he was also disappointed with his fellow council members for not following the practice of “councilmanic courtesy,” a council tradition in which they defer to one another’s wishes on zoning and development matters within their districts.

“Towson is becoming Capitol Hill and that's unfortunate,” Marks said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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