The developers of 101 York, a $60 million student housing project recently announced for downtown Towson, are working to make minor changes to the project in the face of opposition from the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and the American Legion Towson Post No. 22.
"It's not like the community is anti-development — it's just anti-bad development, and they don't feel this is the appropriate use of this space," Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said.
Leaders from the two groups heard a presentation for the plans after it was announced in late May, and shortly thereafter, voiced their concerns about the project's parking situation, size and design.
Hartman sent a letter in mid-June to DMS Development Principal David M. Schlachman and Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, outlining the community association umbrella group's opposition to 101 York.
The proposed project will include 200 student-housing units with more than 500 beds, ground-floor retail and parking for both the residents and customers. Schlachman said 300 parking spaces were allotted for the residents, and fewer than 100 spaces for the business patrons.
In the letter, Hartman called the parking "woefully inadequate."
Schlachman said Thursday his firm does not believe there is a parking issue, but they are making changes now to address others' concerns.
Hartman also said the project could harm the quality of life for residents of nearby established neighborhoods like Southland Hills, Burkleigh Square and Towson Manor Village, as well as the new Towson Green housing development where student overflow parking is a chronic problem.
Though 101 York has support from other factions of the Towson community, including the Towson Chamber of Commerce, Hartman said those other factions "can't understand the opposition to student housing at this location."
"It really is hard to understand if you haven't been in the middle of student issues in your neighborhood," he said. "The people who live in Stoneleigh, or say, Wiltondale, may not grasp the quality-of-life issues that occur on nearly a daily basis when school is in session."
Hartman said he met with Schlachman after he sent the letter to discuss GTCCA's issues.
Ken Wetzel, who took over last week as commander of the Towson American Legion, said his group was most concerned with the parking and environmental issues for the project, which will abut the Legion's property and Towson Run stream.
Wetzel, who lives in Pinehurst, said the only opportunity to get details on the project so far was at the May 23 GTCCA meeting. Though he anticipates changes to be made, the Legion does not support the student housing concept for the property.
"I think (development of the land) is desperately needed, but we certainly want that to be the right project to go in there, and we don't think the one that's presently proposed is correct," Wetzel said.
Schlachman said DMS has been working to address concerns since he met with Hartman, specifically on parking and some aesthetic changes to give the development a "softer front appearance." Details of the changes would not be released until they were finalized, Schlachman said.
Schlachman said informal conversations he has had with nearby residents since the project was announced have opened his eyes to the student housing issue in a way he hadn't before seen it.
"I've really got an appreciation for what they've been through throughout the years," he said. "I never did really understand."
Residents and community leaders concede that problems with students in neighborhoods have lessened recently, but Schlachman knows they will continue to exist. Because of that, he said some might never come around to the idea of a student housing development in Towson's downtown core.
"At the end of the day, I don't believe that everybody will be in favor of this project but what I hope to do is convince the majority of them that we still have a good project and we're being a sensitive as we can to their needs," he said.
"But I think there are some people who will never be behind any type of student housing project in Towson that's off campus. I understand that and where they're coming from, though I do not agree."
The property's zoning of BM (major business) does not support a development as dense as 101 York, so the developers must present the process as a planned unit development, or PUD.
Under the county's PUD laws, developments are allowed above a property's designated zoning density, provided there is a need for that development, a community benefit is included in the project and there is community input on the project.
Marks said he "insisted on a very robust community benefit package" for 101 York and he said the ongoing dialogue before the permit process begins for the development is a good start to the community input.
Still, he thinks the project should go forward with the current concept.
"I don't think it's in Towson's best interest to have that area remain an eyesore while we wait around endlessly for the perfect development to come along," Marks said.
"This project is in the downtown core, and is 20 feet from Towson University property. We're not talking about a massive project in the residential community. The intent here is to bring students out of the residential communities and closer to Towson University."