Councilman David Marks introduced a bill on Dec. 17 that would alter the county's parking code relating to athletic and fitness centers and health spas — and did so with an eye toward bringing a tenant into one of Towson's largest vacant buildings.
Community leaders, however, said this week that while they support the measure and the development it could bring to Towson's core, they would prefer the changes go through the county's variance process, which requires public input.
"Bill 81-12 revises the parking requirements for an athletic club in Downtown Towson," Marks, who represents the 5th District, including Towson, said in an email to the Towson Times. "If a fitness center were to locate in Towson Commons, for instance, that business would be required to have no more parking spaces than the old movie theater."
As the parking code is currently written, athletic clubs and health spas must have a minimum of 10 off-street parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space, excluding tennis and racquetball courts, for which only three spaces are required per court.
However, Marks' bill stipulates that just three parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area are required for athletic clubs in downtown Towson.
"This makes sense, since many health club members would probably work close by and stop there in the morning or at lunch," Marks said.
Representatives from Towson Commons, which has been largely vacant since the eight-screen AMC movie theater closed in the spring of 2011, could not be reached for comment.
Marks said he could not comment on any specific tenants at Towson Commons, but said there was a "very exciting opportunity at Towson Commons that has been a long time coming."
"I will do whatever is needed to redevelop this prime parcel in downtown Towson," Marks said.
Marks said there's a "degree of uncertainty" when dealing with the variance process and, as a result, he has "no problem using legislation to redevelop large areas of Towson."
In the fall of 2011, Marks drew the ire of community leaders for legislation that allowed for expanded signage on the Towson City Center building, which now houses Towson University's Institute of Well Being and the corporate headquarters for MileOne Automotive, among others.
Large signs for both now adorn the top of the building, which was formerly known as the Investment Building.
The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations opposed the legislation on the grounds that they believed it only applied to one building in the Towson core and allowed developers and businesses to skirt the process of receiving a variance, which involves community input.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached that limited the scope of the bill, as well as the signage.
Marks said he briefed GTCCA President Paul Hartman on the issue before it was introduced. Hartman said the GTCCA will not contend conforming the parking codes for a potential athletic club to that of the movie theater at Towson Commons.
However, the GTCCA, which represents more than 30 community associations in Towson, would prefer a variance instead of legislation.
Hartman cited another fitness center in downtown Towson, Anytime Fitness on York Road, which faced similar compliance issues with the parking code.
"Towson Manor Village, the community behind it, supported their request," Hartman said. "There was no delay, there was no denial of the variance. It just shows that the variance process can work and does work, and it also allows for community input if needed.
"I think that's the way things should work," Hartman said. "I intend to speak to Councilman Marks about future issues like this."
The bill is scheduled to be discussed at a 2 p.m. council work session on Tuesday, Jan. 15. The council will vote on the bill on Monday, Jan. 23 at 6 p.m.