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At council work session, Caves Valley defends Towson Station; residents back measure to kill it

The debate over a gas station and retail center proposal at York Road and Bosley Avenue came to the Baltimore County Council on Tuesday, with residents and business interests weighing in on a measure that could kill it.

At a work session in Towson, council members heard comments for and against a resolution proposed by Councilman David Marks that would alter restrictions for Towson Station, a Royal Farms gas station and commercial center planned for a 5.8-acre site that formerly housed a county fire station.

Towson-based developer Caves Valley Partners has a contract to purchase the county-owned land for $8.3 million, contingent on meeting guidelines set in the county's development review process.

Marks' measure, which is scheduled for a vote Monday, would ban the use of gas pumps at the site, a change that would essentially halt the proposal.

Some residents have lobbied against the plan, saying a gas station would be inappropriate for a site considered the gateway to Towson. Some have also objected to the project's potential traffic and environmental impacts.

About 50 people overall attended Tuesday's meeting, some cheering or booing the testimony.

Seventeen people spoke in favor of Marks' resolution, while the developers argued against it, saying it would unfairly change rules approved by the council.

Steve Sibel, a partner with Caves Valley, said the company has been "dragged through the mud for attempting to put a gas station on a corner where it clearly belongs."

He reminded the council that it approved the contract for Caves Valley's purchase of the site, as well as the special development review process — called a planned unit development — that allows for it to be considered.

He said Marks' measure would "gut" that process, "thereby opening up the council to substantial liability."

Caves Valley officials declined additional comment following the meeting.

Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, backed the PUD process last year, but said in July he was pulling his support for the Caves Valley plan.

John Rinehart, vice president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, spoke in favor of the measure. Rinehart noted that when the Marks initially backed the PUD process, his council colleagues supported it in deference to "councilmanic courtesy" — the practice of allowing council members to decide issues within their own district.

"Our councilman is now reflecting the needs of the community," he said. "I encourage the council to support him in the ways they supported the original PUD. Let him represent us."

Katie Pinheiro, director of the Greater Towson Committee — a group that supports business investment in Towson — said in a statement the group urges the council to vote against the resolution and continue to support the development.

"The developers have expended significant dollars in a good faith effort to develop the property pursuant to the approved contact," Pinheiro said in the statement. "A yes vote on [Marks' resolution] would have long lasting precedential effects on dealing with the County Council and development projects in and around Towson and the County in general."

Marks' measure would need four votes to pass. Most council members have not indicated publicly how they will vote, but after the meeting Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, indicated his support for the resolution, saying he would "absolutely" supports it.

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