DMS Development will bring its plans for 101 York, a 571-bed Towson University student housing project, to a wide audience at a planned unit development (PUD) public meeting Wednesday, yet a few weeks after the plans were submitted to Councilman David Marks, many of Towson's stakeholder groups already had made up their minds on the project.
After a round of meetings with DMS, an official from the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations said there are too many beds and too little parking for the project. Representatives from the Towson American Legion Post No. 22 next door called the project too big for the parcel. Only the Towson Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of it.
"Thanks to legislation adopted by this County Council, there's an extensive public review period for planned unit developments, and 101 York is at the very beginning of this process," Marks said. "I'm listening to many people and giving a lot of thought to this project, but there's one hard fact — if this project goes away, we'll just keep waiting for the state higher education system to build more dormitories at some point in the future."
Through its PUD process, Baltimore County allows development of a higher density than a property's zoning allows, provided there is a demonstrated community need and benefit. Given the building's close proximity to Towson University, the developers see it as a natural place to build an off-campus dorm that can draw students out of residential neighborhoods.
DMS Development will host the post-submission input meeting, which is required because of a 2011 PUD reform bill. The developer is required to submit minutes from the meeting to county agencies, and the councilman may require a second meeting.
The developers' attorney submitted the plans for 101 York to Marks on Oct. 7, but DMS Development declined to discuss the project with the Towson Times until the firm's officials had a chance to meet with community leaders.
Some aspects, such as the first-floor retail space, ground-level parking for business patrons and underground parking for students, remained unchanged.
David Schlachman, founder and principal at DMS, however, used the meetings with community leaders to explain that the project's changes were made in an effort to keep it financially viable. The initial plans called for more than 500 beds in 200 units, but because the property footprint had to be moved away from Towson Run for environmental reasons, the developers had to alter the original plans.
To compensate for its smaller footprint, the building had to be made taller, which ended plans to build it from wood. Since concrete and steel are more expensive, Schlachman said DMS needed to add units to make the project financially viable and to make the portion that doesn't front York Road 10 stories of residential.
The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations came out against the project in June, and a firsthand look at the project hasn't changed that, leaders said.
GTCCA President Paul Hartman said the organization still opposes the project because the group's two concerns — parking and the number of beds — have only increased.
The developers said initially that around 300 spaces would be provided for the building's student residents, though the plan only provides little more than half of the residents with onsite parking. Schlachman said DMS has addressed that issue by working with the Baltimore County Revenue Authority to lease 150 spaces in the county garage near the Towson Library.
Hartman questions whether students who don't get onsite parking will pay to park at the library when they might park for free in the surrounding neighborhoods. Schlachman countered that the management firm contracted to run the building would be strict on such issues.
The Towson American Legion Post #22, which owns a majority of the adjacent property, also has issues with the project.
"It's obvious we don't agree with what's going on here," Fred Hoffergert, the post's acting commander, said. "We just think the project is way, way too big for the site, as currently planned."
Mike Parr, adjutant for the Sons of the American Legion, said the Legion is using funds to fight the project on legal grounds, marking the first time since it was chartered in 1930 that the organization is diverting funds away from helping veterans.
The Towson Chamber of Commerce is the lone stakeholder group in Towson to support the project thus far. Executive Director Nancy Hafford said "a majority" of the board members voted in favor of the project earlier this month because of the need for student housing in the area.
"We've been working with the residential community for years, and not that it's going to remove everybody from the residential community, but it gives us more options," Hafford said. "Plus, Towson University is one of the biggest economic engines we have supporting our business community. Students spent a lot of money in the core."
Kaitlin Radebaugh, a board member who lives near her business, Radebaugh's Florist & Greenhouses, said she's "excited about the project.
"I think it goes right along with the revitalization of Towson, and it's much needed in the area it's going on," she said.
For opponents, Wednesday's meeting is just a single step in the process. Hoffergert said they "owe it to the developer to at least hear what he's got to say, and we're going to do that."
An information booth consisting of the submitted plans is available for the public to view during the Legion's business hours, and attendees at the meeting are invited to park in the Legion lot, Hoffergert said.
"The public input portion of this project is not confined to an hour and a half," Parr said. "It goes until Councilman Marks submits the PUD bill."
The meeting, which will be held at the Towson University Marriott, begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30.