About 75 people attended a preliminary community input meeting hosted by the developers who are proposing a plan to convert the former Presbyterian Home of Maryland property in Towson into up to 45 luxury condominiums.
Though most of those who spoke the meeting voiced support for the developer’s plan, some Southland Hills residents said they feared it would lead to unwanted traffic congestion in the neighborhood and other potential problems.
The Presbyterian Home of Maryland, an assisted living center and nursing home, closed its Towson site in 2016. The property includes a 165-year old house known as the Bosley Mansion and an expansive green lawn that developers have promised to preserve as part of a community benefit offered in exchange for building beyond the property’s current zoning.
The plan calls for up to 45 luxury condominiums to be marketed to high-end empty nesters, according to developers Marty Azola, of Azola Companies, and Delbert Adams, of Delbert Adams Construction Group. The units are expected to cost between $850,000 and $1.1 million and feature two-story condominium buildings with underground basement parking centered around a clubhouse planned for the mansion.
To develop the site as planned, the developer, Bosley Estates LLC, is requesting a planned unit development, commonly known as a PUD, for the property. A PUD is approved for projects that the County Council determines will achieve "substantially higher-quality development than a conventional development or provide a public benefit that would otherwise not be obtained," according to Baltimore County officials.
The current zoning of the 4.5-acre site allows for either construction of another senior living facility or up to 28 residential units — 17 less units than the developer’s plan proposes — according to officials.
The developer-hosted community input meeting was the beginning of the plan’s approval process, Adams said.
Jennifer Bolster, president of the Southland Hills Improvement Association, and Kate Knott, of the preservation group Save the Bosley Mansion, spoke in favor of the project. The project also has the support of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, an umbrella group of neighborhood associations in Towson.
The project, spearheaded by a development group with a reputation for restoring old buildings, will improve a property that has started to show its age while focusing on the concerns of the community, they said.
Joseph Slovick III, board chairman of the Presbyterian Home of Maryland, also spoke in favor of the project. The proposal is the best outcome for the neighborhood, as the property is no longer viable as an assisted living facility, he said.
However, several Southland Hills residents testified that allowing the developers to build on the plot beyond the 28 units allowed under its current zoning would cause traffic and parking congestion along the neighborhood’s narrow streets. The also said that they feared that they would lose their view of the mansion’s lawn and its trees.
Georgia Chantiles-Ruby, a 33-year resident of Florida Road, in Southland Hills, which runs along the east side of the property, said the current proposal breaks her heart.
While a handful of residents, including Chantiles-Ruby spoke against the project, more than 20 spoke in favor of the developers’ plans.
“It’s disheartening to have just about everyone who has shown up here that are not directly impacted say some people are going to have to take the brunt of it,” Chantiles-Ruby said after the meeting.
The comments from Wednesday’s meeting will be passed to Towson’s County Council representative, David Marks, a Republican from Perry Hall, who must introduce the PUD.
Bosley Estates LLC hopes to close on the property in December 2018 with construction starting the following spring, Adams said.
Marks said he will make a decision on whether to introduce a PUD after reviewing the minutes for the meeting.
“I want to see what changes have been proposed in response to some of the neighbors' concerns,” he said in a Nov. 2 email.
A PUD application the developer submitted to Baltimore County in September calls for keeping the original mansion and many of its additions, plus adding the residential buildings and several small additions. However, in response to previous input gathered from residents over the summer, Azola and Delbert announced three changes to what they called “very preliminary plans” at the meeting.
Setbacks previously planned at about 25 feet will vary between 25 and 75 feet and the space between buildings will be wider, both of which are designed to make the construction more aesthetically pleasing, Azola said. Also, curb cutouts to allow cars to exit onto Florida Road and Dixie Drive in Southland Hills have been removed.
The concerns voiced by Southland Hills residents are legitimate, Bolster said.
“At the same time, I think we have an excellent development team that’s going to address those concerns,” she added. "
Chantiles-Ruby said the changes offered at the meeting are not enough to win her support.
Azola, who has said he will never do a project that isn’t popular, said he thought the meeting went well and that he hopes to eventually get Chantiles-Ruby and others who oppose the project on his side.
“I think the input taken is we need to keep the lines of communication open with those who have issues,” Azola said. “We don’t want to bicker. We want to keep the dialogue open.”