Establishing a special tax district in central Towson to pay for enhanced maintenance, cleanup and landscaping — all designed to improve the aesthetics of the evolving downtown — was an emerging theme at a Wednesday night community forum.
More than 50 residents and business owners met at Goucher College to discuss ways to spruce up the area, with some residents complaining about unkempt businesses.
Mike Ertel, the president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, which represents neighborhood groups, showed pictures of piles of leaves on a York Road sidewalk and a trash dumpster occupying parking spaces — examples of what he said are issues with basic maintenance.
"I think we are consistently seeing some of the restaurant and bars doing a bad job" maintaining the areas around their properties, he said.
Katie Pinheiro of the Greater Towson Committee, which promotes business development and investment, responded that many businesses and landlords do a good job of maintaining their properties.
County Councilman David Marks, whose district includes Towson, suggested property owners consider a Business Improvement District for the downtown. Under a BID plan, property owners would pay higher taxes and get additional services, such as enhanced landscaping, maintenance and public safety.
"Why is this important?" Marks said. "Because the county government right now has limited resources stretched over many communities. If we don't have this sort of mechanism, we're competing with neighborhoods all around the county to keep our streets clean, pick up trash, and beautify areas like downtown Towson."
Jason Vettori, president of the Greater Towson Committee, questioned the concept. Property owners might pass along their higher taxes to tenants, eventually translating into higher prices for customers.
Businesses are already taxed for services, he said.
"Why aren't those things happening already? Why do we have to pay an additional fee?" he added.
Wayne Gioioso, president of Mid-Atlantic Properties, a company whose portfolio includes 100 West Pennsylvania Avenue, said he would support the Business Improvement District.
He also said property owners need to do more — if they do others will follow, he said, as others will see that the well-kept properties can charge more for rent.
"There's a mindset that needs to take place," Gioioso said. "We have to make Towson look better."