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Residents say they don't want change in Towson area zoning

Towson Triangle and Colony requests are key issues at zoning review session

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

2:40 PM EDT, June 5, 2012

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A group of community leaders from Towson this week had a specific request for Fifth District Councilman David Marks regarding the community's zoning and land-use designations — keep them the way they are.

At the June 4 public hearing on 5th District zoning issues — part of the countywide Comprehensive Zoning Map Process — residents supported recommendations from the Planning Board that essentially reject many proposed changes suggested by property owners and others.

"Our efforts in this process have been to sustain the integrity of our community, and make sure it's a place where people want to live and work," said David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, during the hearing.

"We ask that the County Council would uphold what the Planning Board has recommended — so we can keep Towson the way we, as a community, want to see it," he said.

The CZMP is held every four years, and gives property owners, businesses and citizens the opportunity to request zoning changes across the county.

The process, which started last fall, produced 59 requests for the 5th District, including 21 in the Towson area. The review includes planning staff recommendations and hearings, but ultimately the County Council — and each district representative — will decide to support or reject changes.

At Monday's hearing, the GTCCA was the most vocal force for Towson, with several of its members speaking on specific issues.

Paul Hartman, association vice president, urged the council to maintain existing zoning in what's known as the Towson Triangle — a group of parcels between West Towsontown Boulevard, Bosley Avenue and York Road.

Former 5th District Planning Board Member Robert Latshaw had submitted that area for rezoning, requesting that it be zoned BM-CT — a town center designation that carries provisions for high density commercial space. At a March hearing, he said he felt it should be considered as a means to unify Towson University with the downtown core.

But Hartman said the Towson Community Plan, adopted in 1992, states that Towson's commercial district cannot expand during the life of the plan — and a change in the Triangle tract would do just that.

That's an argument that was also advanced at the March hearing by Jim Rebbert, commander of the Towson American Legion Post 22. The post building is part of the Triangle, and Rebbert has also expressed concern that if the zoning is changed, the post would no longer be considered a suitable use — and could eventually be forced out.

At Monday's hearing, Rebbert was present but did not speak. He said afterward he believes a zoning change for the Triangle won't happen.

Marks: Keep Colony zoning

Two people — GTCCA member Chris Raborn of Wiltondale and Riderwood Hills Community Association Vice President Arthur Johnston — spoke against a zoning change proposed for the Colony at Kenilworth, an issue that has been one of the most visible in the Towson area during this edition of the CZMP.

Marks himself has actually proposed a look at the Colony's zoning, primarily as a means to bring the property owners "to the table" for discussions about student drinking issues and other community concerns.

But once the issue was opened, the developers requested something different — that zoning be increased to allow a higher density and some commercial space. County planning staff initially recommended the change, but Planning Board member Nancy Hafford petitioned her colleagues to recommend keeping the current zoning after it was made public that county police were called to the property 342 times in a two-year span.

Hafford said the developer could work with Marks on a development plan that would benefit the community.

But Marks said last week there won't be time to present site plans to the community before this CZMP cycle ended. And, as a result, he said, "I will entertain no plans for change in density at the Colony."

He said he'll still try work on issues at the property.

"In the nine months since I initiated the zoning issue, we have started a good dialogue about the future of the Colony," Marks said in an email. "I look forward to working with them, the Riderwood Hills community, and other county officials to reduce any lingering problems at the complex."

On Monday, residents also urged Marks to retain the existing zoning on the west side of Bosley Avenue in Towson, and reject a proposal to allow commercial growth there.

The properties lining that stretch are currently zoned for, and used as, residential office buildings — house-like structures that can be used for small business purposes. But in each of the last several CZMP cycles, the properties have been submitted for higher commercial zoning.

Former GTCCA president Dick Parsons cited all of vacant office space elsewhere in Towson as a reason why more commercial space isn't needed on that stretch, which he said provides a "restful entrance to the West Towson neighborhood."

Paul Shipley, whose family owns one of the properties in question, said during the hearing that a zoning change might prevent them from keeping the house as a family residence. West Towson Neighborhood Association president Mike Ertel also spoke out against a zoning change.

After the meeting Monday, Marks said that he would consider the input and begin announcing some of his decisions shortly. Each of the remaining six council districts will hold their own public hearings this month, and will adopt its changes at a special legislation session at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, in the Council Chambers.