Council approves higher developer fees in Towson to pay for open space

Balto. Co. Council OKs higher open space fees for Towson developers.

Some developers in booming downtown Towson will pay greater fees than previously required to help pay for creation of new parks and open space under a plan approved by the Baltimore County Council on Monday.

Legislation sponsored by Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, was more than a year in the making and followed complaints from residents and sports groups that the growing community lacks fields, parks and trails.

"This has been the most complex issue I've had to deal with on the County Council," Marks said prior to the council's unanimous vote in favor.

In Baltimore County, developers must include in their projects a certain amount of open space for each residential unit. If they can't — or if they choose not to — developers can pay a fee to the county instead that's used to buy and develop public parks elsewhere.

But in Towson, exemptions on the books — crafted years ago to spur development — meant some developers have paid little to nothing in such fees.

Under the new plan, developers building in Towson's downtown who don't have enough open space will pay $2,000 to $3,800 per residential unit, depending on where they are located. Developers already in the approval process will pay a portion of the increased fees.

The plan does not cover two major projects that already have been approved — the massive mixed-use Towson Row development on the corner of York Road and Towsontown Boulevard and The Flats, a 105-unit apartment complex at York Road and Washington Avenue.

Developers of those projects volunteered to make donations toward open space projects to be split between the county and the community, Marks said.

Towson Row developer Caves Valley Partners will pay $350,000, while The Flats' developer, Federal Realty Investment Trust, will pay $150,000.

Between those two projects and the increased fees for other developments, Towson will get about $2 million in additional money for park and trail projects compared to the old fee structure, Marks said.

"It's a substantial boost in open space funding," he said.

Marks said the plan was the result of months of negotiations he led with developers and community groups.

Several members of the group Green Towson Alliance attended Monday's council meeting and praised the higher fees but also urged the county to move forward on previously-announced park projects.

Two Towson park projects are stalled: redevelopment of the county's lackluster Patriot Plaza and the county's purchase of part of Radebaugh Florist and Greenhouse's property off Aigburth Avenue.

The county administration has balked at the price to tear down greenhouses on the Radebaugh property and the purchase of the land has not been finalized.

Meanwhile, the council has not yet approved a contract with a consultant for the redesign of Patriot Plaza, a plaza with a broken fountain between the Circuit Court building and the Historic Courthouse.

Green Towson Alliance member Larry Fogelson of Rodgers Forge said the open space fee was "a Herculean effort," but isn't enough.

"We're not done talking about open space," he said.

Fellow alliance member Beth Miller of Anneslie said many residents feel "frustrated and unheard" when it comes to Radebaugh. She said scouts, college students and others are willing to pitch in to help landscape the property.

pwood@baltsun.com

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