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A step forward for 101 York project in Towson

Council action expected May 22 on revised proposal

By Mary K. Tilghman, mtilghman@tribune.com

8:57 AM EDT, April 29, 2014

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Plans for construction of 101 York, a mixed-use project of student housing, commercial space and parking, advanced a step last week when County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, introduced a resolution April 21 to approve the continued review of a proposed planned unit development for the project. The council is expected to act on the measure May 22.

The project, which faced criticism from Towson leaders when it was introduced last year, has been revised, according to Marks.

Additional parking, bike racks, a stop for the future Towson circulator, changes in architecture and a community benefit package directed to the three closest neighborhoods — adding $15 million to the original $60 price tag — have been added to the project, Marks said.

If the project proceeds as proposed it will have room for 611 students, 495 parking spaces, 9,300 square feet of retail on the ground level, as well as an option to lease 150 additional parking spaces from the Baltimore County Library garage, according to Wendy Crites, executive director of DMS Development, the project's developer.

The newest proposal, she said, adds 40 more beds as well as another level to accommodate the additional parking. The project, located on the west side of York Road, will have access to both York Road and Burke Avenue

"It is strictly student housing," Crites said.

Units will have either two or four beds with two baths, although there will be some one-bedroom studio apartments as well. The front desk will be staffed at all times.

Revisions came in response to neighbors' concerns, Crites said. "I feel like we reached out there to meet people's needs," she said. 

The project has the support of Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.

"It makes sense," she said. "Towson University has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 15 to 20 years."

She said she supports the project on the 2.74-acre site now vacant and overgrown both for students and for the businesses between the site and Towsontown Boulevard. "I'm hoping it will help these businesses as well," she said.

Parking remains an issue, according to Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said.

He said neighboring communities have had experience with student parking in front of their houses when they can't find parking on campus.

Hartman said he wasn't convinced additional parking at the library will answer their concerns. "Tenants aren't going to park a quarter of a mile away," he said. 

In addition, he said there are concerns that the 13-story project — nearly as tall as the nearby Marriott at Towson University — is too big for its location. "It's just massive," he said. Other worries include stormwater runoff and erosion, he said, adding that some residents oppose student housing in this location.

The area needs to be redeveloped, Hartman said. "This is not the right project."

"There is no perfect development for this site," Marks said in an email. "Apartments and townhouses would have far worse parking and traffic impacts, and it is not in anyone's best interest to this decaying, unsafe area rot away for another decade."

He said a parking study found the original proposal had sufficient space but at Marks' request, more onsite spaces were added, raising the number by 20 percent, from 367 to 495. 

Planned unit developments, or PUD, are different from other types of developments. They usually include a mix of residential, recreation and commercial space. The County Council is required to determine that the project will be of higher quality than a conventional development and provide additional public benefit to the surrounding community. 

The resolution for York 101 requires capital improvement funds for a county-owned mini-park in Southland Hills, as well as for improvements in Towson Manor Village and Burkleigh Square.

Marks' resolution further requires the developer provide racks for 100 bicycles, a dedicated lane along York Road and roofed shelter for a future Towson circulator stop, two parking spaces for a car sharing program, as well as enhancement to the streetscape near the project. No hookah lounges, bail bondsman businesses or tattoo parlors will be permitted in the commercial space.

A number of further steps are necessary before construction on the project could proceed. First, Marks' resolution for the York 101 PUD will be considered in an upcoming County Council meeting. Following its likely passage, a post-submission community input meeting and then a review by the county Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections will follow. 

Among the other steps, a concept plan which outlines the benefits for the community which are a requirement of a planned unit development will be required once the the County Council adopts the resolution, and the proposal will have to go before a Hearing Officer.