www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/towson/ph-tt-rofo-protest-1127-20131121,0,108806.story

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Towson residents protest Royal Farms project

Morningside community, others stage rush-hour march against redevelopment of fire station

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

7:20 PM EST, November 21, 2013

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Around 50 Towson residents staged a rush-hour protest Thursday afternoon at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue to oppose the plan to sell the Towson fire station property for redevelopment as a Royal Farms.

"I feel like we have support," Peggy King, president of the nearby Morningside Community Association, said. "I think the general public in Towson supports us. There are a lot of people [here] not from our street, not from our neighborhood."

Thursday's protest comes just days before a County Council work session Tuesday, Nov. 26 when the public will be allowed to give input on the fire station sale as well as two other county land sales — the North Point Government Center and Randallstown Police Substation — arranged by county officials.

All three were made available for commercial sale and redevelopment by Baltimore County in December 2012. After a closed bidding process, a panel of county officials chose a winning bid for each site. The winning bids were announced by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz last month.

The County Council must approve each contract of sale. The Royal Farms bid, which was submitted by CVP-TF LLC., has a present value of $8.5 million, county officials said. Profits will be used to fund a new fire station at the corner of Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard, officials said.

The Royal Farms plans include the latest prototype of the convenience store and a gas station bay, as well as 10,000-square-feet of retail and a pad site that could hold a restaurant or bank.

Kamenetz has touted several aspects of the development as beneficial to the community, such as a landscaped entrance featuring a waterfall and LED lighting that does not cause light pollution.

But West Towson residents said they have issues with several aspects of the plan and on Thursday evening, held signs saying as much.

Protesters held placards reading such slogans as "Corporate cash plus politicians equals sleazy deals," and "We love our fire station."King and her neighbors on Morningside Drive, a 26-home enclave that overlooks the fire station, are concerned that moving the fire station could impact response times. According to King, Morningside Drive has had two bad fires in the last few years, and the neighbors like the security of living near a fire station.

Protesters also questioned why the sale process would occur before they saw site plans for the new fire station site.

State Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents Towson, was among the protesters saying the sale didn't make fiscal sense. Between the cost of a new fire station, land remediation at the current site and possible needs at the new site, Brochin said the county wouldn't net the profits it says it will.

He also said the gas station could "give people who just got out of the [Baltimore County] Detention Center [across the street] a place to hang out — which is a problem."

Residents are also concerned that a large gas station could increase the lighting and traffic issues at the already busy intersection.

Despite the protests, Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said in an email earlier in the day on Thursday that the administration believes the sale will go forward.

"The fact that we will be able to build a state-of-the-art fire station at no expense to the taxpayer and have additional funds available for school projects makes this a very wise investment for the Towson community," Kobler said. "We have every indication that the County Council will agree."

The property is zoned BM-CT, which allows for major business in a town center district, but a planned unit development is required for the Royal Farms because gas stations are not allowed in that zoning class. The PUD process involves several community input steps, and the process could provide protections for the community.

The protest outside the firehouse was the second such demonstration held in response to the county's plan to sell the fire station land for development and relocate the firehouse. Last December, community members protested against the firehouse being relocated to Towson Manor Park, as had been initially discussed.