Towson residents fight plan to move fire station to park
For neighbors, Towson Manor Park is a respite from dense development
About 50 people gathered at Towson Manor Park Thursday afternoon and marched to a busy Towson intersection in protest of a proposed firehouse being built in the park area. (Jon Sham/BSMG)
But for neighbors, it's a gathering spot and a break from the high-rise buildings downtown and the traffic rumbling by on Towsontown Boulevard.
Kevin Kamenetz's administration to replace an aging fire station on heavily developed York Road with a new one at the park site.
"We chose to live in this community because of this park," said Kristen Gerding, a 30-year-old mother who said she takes her two small children to the playground almost every day. "The thought of losing that is just heartbreaking."
The fire station relocation is part of a broader plan announced this week to sell government properties to developers and use the cash to upgrade schools. In Towson, the county is considering moving the fire station — now at the busy corner of Bosley Avenue and York Road — to the park on the southern edge of downtown. Money from the sale of the current fire station site would fund air conditioning at nearby Dumbarton Middle School, the county said.
Neighbors are distributing fliers, organizing meetings and planning a protest rally Thursday at the park to fight the proposal. They say they use the park, which opened in the early 1990s, for Easter egg hunts, neighborhood parties and meeting friends.
"There's a real deficit of green space in the Towson area," said Ed Kilcullen, past president of the Towson Manor Village Community Association, "and yet the green space just keeps getting eaten up."
State Sen. Jim Brochin said Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January that would require state lawmakers from Baltimore County to approve county plans to use parkland for anything other than building schools.
"There needs to be another check in the system so that county government can't do this anymore, or even threaten to do it," said Brochin, a Towson-area Democrat. "I don't understand what this assault on parks is. These are parents swinging their kids, and kids playing in the sandbox. Who is against that?"
Kamenetz's chief of staff, Don Mohler, said the county executive "truly understands the community's attachment" to the park and is trying to find other locations for the fire station.
"We've got engineers looking at other sites, and the county executive is hopeful and optimistic that we'll be able to find an alternate location that doesn't require taking away green space in Towson," Mohler said.
Some say the park doesn't get much use.
"I work right here, so I'm constantly going right by the park," said Wendy Crites, who lives within walking distance of the park and works in downtown Towson as executive director of the firm DMS Development. "There isn't any time of year I've ever seen it busy or active. ... It's a completely underutilized public space."
But Gerding, whose children are 3 and 1, said she and her husband chose to live in Towson over more suburban areas because they wanted to able to walk to the library, farmers' market and other events in town.
She's seen many young families like hers come to the area since she moved in seven years ago.
"That's a good thing," she said. "Do you really want to scare people off by destroying one of the only playgrounds in Towson?"
The park offers some breathing room even for those just passing by, said Paul Hartman, incoming president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.
"It really helps your state of mind," Hartman said.
Residents also worry about a firehouse's blaring noise.