City-owned property in Towson cleaned up, sale pending

A Baltimore City-owned property in Towson that some neighbors say has been an eyesore was cleaned up this week after neighbors and county officials reported its conditions to city officials.

Neighbors say the vacant lot, at 219 E. Burke Ave., in Towson, is often full of overgrown weeds and tall grass.

Baltimore City Comptroller Joan Pratt said the city’s Department of Public Works, which is responsible for the parcel’s maintenance, was notified Aug. 21 that the property was open to potential trespassers. Pratt said the property was locked up again last week.

City officials also trimmed the overgrown weeds and mowed the grass, Pratt said.

The sale of the of the three-quarter acre parcel to an entity of Towson-based Continental Realty Corporation is in settlement after gaining the city’s Board of Estimates’ approval on Aug. 16, Pratt said.

In the meantime, the property, which had previously served as a maintenance depot for the city’s public works department, is the city’s responsibility. The city's public works department maintains water service in most of Baltimore County.

Tentative plans for the site call for expanding the amenities offered to residents of the adjacent Donnybrook Apartments, a Continental Realty Corporation spokesman said Friday. An affiliate of Continental Realty Company owns and manages the Towson apartment complex.

According to online city records, Donnybrook PAD, LLC, an entity of Continental Realty, has agreed to pay the fair market appraised value for the property of $120,000 and has put down a $12,000 good faith deposit.

“The company hasn't finalized any plans for the property but we are looking at adding an amenity to the property that will benefit the Donnybrook apartment community,” company spokesman Larry Lichtenauer said in a Sept. 1 email. “We look forward to determining what makes sense for the property and discussing our plans with the community.”

Lichtenauer did not say what the additional amenity would be but improvements may include a swimming pool, clubhouse and additional parking, according to minutes from an Aug. 16 Board of Estimates meeting.

The city leased the parcel to a water distribution contractor between 2005 and 2012, but it has been vacant since.

Paul Hartman, vice president of the neighboring Aigburth Manor Association, said residents call Baltimore County code enforcement officials when the weeds grow too high. However the county does not have oversight on city property.

While a property owned by a governmental entity, such as Baltimore City, is exempt from zoning and development regulations unless otherwise noted in law, a private sale would require compliance with those regulations, Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said in an Aug. 24 email.

Knowing the property is being considered for redevelopment is a welcome change, Hartman said.

“It would be great to have it developed into something that looks better and is maintained,” Hartman said Friday. “On the other hand, we’d like it to be compatible with the community.”

Hartman said the proposed uses would likely be acceptable to the community if there were noise and time restrictions in place for the use of the amenity.

“Hopefully we can work together,” Hartman said. “That’s the kind of project I like — where we’re working together for a common goal.”

Baltimore County zoning laws updated in 2012 prohibit the construction of anything larger than a single-family home on the parcel, which is zoned DR-1, meaning that a maximum of one housing unit per acre can be built on it.

Prior to 2012 the property was zoned for 16 units per acre, a classification that would have allowed an apartment complex to be built on the property, according to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson.

Marks said he “downzoned” the property during the county's 2012 comprehensive zoning process to avoid the construction of anything “intense,” including additional apartments.

“The good news is that it will not be additional housing, where students would likely live,” Marks said. “I think [the proposed amenities] are uses the community would probably accept with the right type of landscaping and screening.”

Continental Realty Corporation has been affiliated with Donnybrook Apartments for more than 25 years and continues to invest in the property, Lichtenauer said.

The company recently completed a $600,000 addition of parking spaces to the apartment complex, to open street parking in the surrounding community. Landscaping and exterior painting has also been upgraded, and an interior renovation is in the works, Lichtenauer said.

“We are proud of our reputation in the community and look forward to continuing to work with the community as we determine what best meets the needs of the residents,” Lichtenauer said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Rachael Pacella contributed to this story.

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