While addressing Towson community leaders at the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations' annual holiday party Thursday evening, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said Towson Manor Park was a low-ranking option for a new firehouse location in Towson.
"I will tell you that the Towson Manor Park is not our first choice," he said. "It's really our last resort, but because we needed to get this process going, we had to identify this site of last resort if we were to go through with it."
After he opened his remarks with light-hearted comments about some of the GTCCA members, Kamenetz acknowledged what he called the elephant in the room — a proposal to sell the property at York Road and Bosley Avenue that houses the Towson fire station and a Public Works facility and use the profits to build a new firehouse elsewhere.
In the initial iteration of the plan, which was first presented to Towson-area state legislators, Kamenetz reportedly presented Towson Manor Park, located on the corner of East Towsontown Boulevard and Virginia Avenue, as the new firehouse location.
But after weeks of meeting with community members and a rush-hour rally by opponents to drum up opposition for using the parkland, Kamenetz explained the process that led to the uprising in the first place and assured residents he was exploring alternatives.
Two other county properties have been slated for sale, with services housed in those buildings to be moved — the North Point Government Center in Dundalk and the Randallstown Police Substation.
Excess funds raised in each sale would go toward air conditioning and technology in each area, Kamenetz said.
Under the proposal, the North Point police station would move into the Eastwood Elementary Magnet building, with those students moved to either Northwood Elementary or Holabird Middle.
Because the school system had to communicate that with its families in the area and begin to work out contingencies, Kamenetz said the requests for proposals for each property had to be put out quickly to identify backup solutions should the sales occur.
The casual holiday party got tense Thursday when Kamenetz said he "unfortunately" briefed the state legislature first. Del. Steve Lafferty of Towson, who was in attendance, questioned what he meant, and Kamenetz said it was only unfortunate that the community did not hear the plans directly first.
Those plans, Kamenetz said, are not "set in stone." He added that the county is "still identifying some other areas that we think would make sense," and it's possible a developer could buy a portion of the site at York and Bosley to allow a new fire station at its current location.
The engineering studies on other sites could take a month, he said, while the whole process will likely be six months long.
"If we don't get the money that we think we need to build a new building and reinvest and replace, we're not going to do it," Kamenetz said. "We're going to go back to the drawing board and figure out a different way. But if we do get it, we think we can make it work."
Lafferty, who spoke after the county executive, said he appreciated the creative ways the county aims to meet Towson's needs, but "you can't take parkland."
"The bottom line is parkland is not a trade off for a fire station or anything else," Lafferty said.
While he didn't take it off the table entirely, Kamenetz told the residents to wait for the results of the engineering studies.
"I've been in office here for 18 years," he said. "I get it that people don't want to replace a park with a fire station. I understand that."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun