More than 50 people packed a public meeting Wednesday night to give feedback on a proposed condominium development at the site of the historic Bosley Mansion in Towson’s Southland Hills neighborhood.
During the sometimes emotional meeting held at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, some residents criticized the proposal for the Bosley Estates project. But many others said that though the project is not exactly what they wanted, they want it to move forward.
“At the end of the day, it is not a park. It is an economic reality that you’ve got to make a profit,” said Jim Tomney, of Southland Hills. “I sure don’t want my desire for the perfect [project] to get in the way of something that is solid and good.”
The plan to build 33 high-end condominiums costing between $750,000 and $1.5 million on the 4.5-acre plot at 400 Georgia Court, arose after the land’s current owner, the Presbyterian Home of Maryland, closed its assisted-living facility in 2016.
Towson-based Caves Valley Partners initially bid on the property, and struck a tentative agreement to lease the space to Baltimore County for offices. But following an outcry from neighbors, who feared the plan would increase traffic and put stress on street parking, Caves Valley pulled out of the deal in January.
Since last spring, Baltimore developers Marty Azola, of Azola Companies,and Delbert Adams, of Delbert Adams Construction Group, are partnering under Bosley Estates LLC to develop the property while preserving the 149-year-old historic mansion.
In order to build more than 28 homes under the current zoning designaton for the property, the project has to go through the planned unit development process or PUD. In order to qualify and then be approved by the County Council for a PUD to alter its zoning designation, the developer must include some benefit to the community that would not otherwise be obtained. In this case, developers offered to restore the mansion and maintain green space for residents to use on the property’s expansive lawn, which has historically functioned as a community park in West Towson.
Residents initially pushed to have the county designate the lawn as parkland, but were told by the landowner that proposal was not viable. The Presbyterian Home needed to sell the land to support its mission in building a new nursing home facility in Harford County, said Joe Slovick III, who as chairman of Presbyterian Home’s board currently controls the property.
During the meeting, half a dozen residents praised Azola and Adams for doing something they said is rare for developers: listening.
“Calling them developers is like calling Picasso a cartoonist,” Slovick said. A better word, he said, would be “preservationists.” Azola’s resume includes preserving the Historic Baltimore County Jail in Towson and developing it into offices, and renovating the historic Ivy Hotel in Baltimore. Adams helped restore Baltimore's Washington Monument in the 1980s.
Adams said during the meeting that much of the proposal presented Wednesday night was inspired by comments made by residents from a previous community input meeting in November.
Instead of large “institutional” buildings featured in November’s proposal, Adams said, the recent proposal features smaller buildings of up to four condominium units, with fewer units overall than the initial 45 the developers applied for. The green lawn space is preserved in front of the mansion, which would be maintained and preserved. The buildings also have lower roof heights and fewer egresses onto surrounding roads, two other alterations requested by community members.
To make those changes affordable, Adams said the developers are boosting costs of the condominiums. Previously estimated at up to $1.1 million, now condominiums could cost as much as $1.5 million, he said.
The condos will be aimed at “empty-nesters,” particularly people who may spend winters somewhere warmer and want a condominium they can “lock and leave,” with grounds they do not have to manage, Adams said.
“We will not build an unpopular project,” Azola said. “Never have, never will.”
Still, there were detractors. Southland Hills resident Georgia Chantiles-Ruby used tall white poles to demonstrate the height of a proposed 12-foot retaining wall on the property, which would face the outside perimeter.
“We’re not doing that,” Azola protested, his hands raised.
“Then why is it on the plan?” Chantiles-Ruby shot back. The view of green space on the property that neighbors have enjoyed, she said, is not adequately preserved in the proposal.
“Our neighborhood is beautiful, tree-lined, calm and welcoming,” said Ann Snoeyenbos, also of Southland Hills. “This development does not fit the nature of our neighborhood."
But developers and residents agreed on one thing: both oppose the county administration’s request that the developers widen Georgia Court. Adams said that could kill the project financially; residents said it would change the “character” of the neighborhood.
“Who here wants the streets widened?” one woman asked the crowd. Only one resident raised her hand.
Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, said he does not support widening the street – if that proposal moved forward, he said he would consider introducing a resolution to prevent it.
After Wednesday’s final input meeting, the developers have one year to submit a development plan, which would then come before an administrative law judge for approval. Residents can also give feedback under oath at the administrative law judge hearing.
If approved, Adams said workers could break ground within the year, and construction would take about 18 months.