County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's announcement Monday, Jan. 7 that a new Towson firehouse would not be built at Towson Manor Park was hailed as a victory for Towson residents and open space proponents alike.
"I think it's a terrific day for Towson that we did not lose a park and the community was able to hold onto something that was truly an asset," Del. Steve Lafferty, of Towson, said. "I'm glad the folks at Towson Manor Village have the park protected and preserved, and the county executive has made the choice not to take away open space."
The plan to build a new fire station is part of a proposal by Kamenetz to sell county properties for private development and use proceeds for aging school infrastructure. Officials also want to sell the North Point Government Center in Dundalk and the Randallstown Police Substation, and relocate the government services now located there.
The county issued requests for proposals for the land sales today, with responses due April 5.
Originally, the park and playground at the corner of Towsontown Boulevard and Virginia Avenue was being seriously considered for the site of a new firehouse.
But on Monday, the county announced plans to build the new firehouse on the site of the county's gas station at the corner of Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard.
Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District, including Towson, said the new site was on a list of alternatives provided by the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.
"This is a location in a commercial and governmental corridor, not a park," Marks said. "If the fire station is not going to go here, I don't know where it could go."
Marks said he and GTCCA President Paul Hartman also asked Kamenetz to provide additional landscaping and noise buffering at that site should the plan move forward.
"We're obviously pleased that an alternate site has been chosen because GTCCA was opposed to losing a valuable park resource," Hartman said. "We're happy that the engineers have determined an alternate site is feasible."
A new firehouse will only be built if the county's asking price is met by the April 5 deadline for bids. According to a county press release, each individual sale will be presented to the County Council if that price is met. If the bids fall short, the sale will not go through.
"As always, the market will tell us whether or not our valuation of the properties is correct," Kamenetz said. "If we are right, then we will be able to replace a police precinct and a fire station for free at no cost to the taxpayers. We will also be able to dedicate funds for badly needed school renovation projects."
Kamenetz has said that any funds leftover from the Towson transaction would be used to install air conditioning at Dumbarton Middle School.
In Dundalk, the sale of North Point Government Center would subsidize moving the police station into the building which currently houses Eastwood Magnet Elementary and Eastwood's students would be transferred to either Holabird Middle or Norwood Elementary. Money leftover from that sale could fund either tech equipment or air conditioning for those schools.
"Difficult economic times require us to devise new ways of doing business," Kamenetz said in a statement. "We have to find creative ways to rebuild our aging structure while protecting taxpayer dollars."
Ed Kilcullen, a past president of the Towson Manor Village Community Association and the GTCCA, said residents were pleased with the outcome but not happy they had to protest to keep the park.
The proposal to build a new firehouse at the park first came to light in a meeting between Kamenetz and Towson's legislative delegation. At the time, state Sen. Jim Brochin, who lives in East Towson and represents District 42, said Kamenetz presented the plan as a "done deal."
"We were very much caught off guard by the news that the park was being considered," he said. "It really sparked a fire in the hearts of a lot of our neighbors whose kids use that park every day."
Residents held impromptu community meetings, flooded Kamenetz's and Marks' offices with calls and emails, and eventually organized a rush-hour protest along York Road to raise awareness of their efforts to save the park.
At a Dec. 20 GTCCA meeting, Kamenetz told those in attendance that Towson Manor Park was a "last resort," but still refused to take the park off the table.
Now that it has been removed from consideration, Kilcullen said the community aims to protect the park's future.
"We shouldn't have to go through what we've gone through the last month or so, so we're going to look at what we can do to prevent the park from being used for anything other than a park," he said. "This whole process could repeat itself two months down the road, two years down the road. We don't ever want to let that happen again."
Allison Knezevich of the Baltimore Sun contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun