A $60 million commercial-residential development in the Towson Triangle announced last week was a decade in the making for DMS Development of Towson, but now that word is out about the latest in a series of Towson developments, plenty of work remains for the developer.
The project, 101 YORK, will feature first-floor retail and 200 apartment units geared toward Towson University students, an issue that could be contentious when the community is consulted as part of the planned unit development process required for the project to move forward.
Despite needing to take community input on the project before construction begins, DMS Principal David Schlachman and his partners, Michael Ertel and Wendy Crites, are committed to success.
"This will be a quality project," Schlachman said. "Maybe you can't see it from the pictures that are out there, but it's going to be, in our eyes, a beautiful looking project. We're always going to get pushback until it gets built, and then we'll see what the fallout is."
Though it has taken many forms along the way, 101 YORK has been on the books at DMS since it acquired two of the properties in 2003. Since then, the developer has waited out the owners of the Pizans property that houses Pizan's Pizza and York Liquors.
Many different versions of the project were discussed before the current one was finalized. At one point, when the Pizans property owners were refusing to sell, Schlachman said the plan called for a 20-story building. When Pizans ultimately sold, they landed on the current plans, which he said are "a lot more benign to the community than a tall building."
"We just never felt right about pulling the trigger on the tall building," he said. "It really just didn't clean up that whole area, and it was clear to us that people wanted that area cleaned up, and that's what we needed to do. So we kind of bit the bullet and did what we had to do to get that other property."
DMS declined to provide the purchase price for the Pizans building because the property has not yet closed.
Earlier proposals for the project included condominiums before the economic downturn stalled that market, Schlachman said.
During the formal announcement of the project, DMS and Baltimore County made no qualms about calling the development student housing.
"Historically, the community has been against student housing off campus," Greater Towson Council of Communtiy Associations President Paul Hartman said. "We've tried to get the university to go with more dorms and residence halls on campus, and it is in the master plan for the university to do that, but this is a truly private thing and it really has no link to the university other than they would like to market to their students."
Deb Moriarty, vice president of student affairs at Towson, said the building could be a perfect fit for the school's older, mature students.
"The reality is that after their second year, most students don't want to live on campus," Moriarty said. "Transfer students come in at an older age; they're a little bit more mature, and this is exactly what they're looking for — convenience to campus, and they want to live in relatively nice apartments."
Schlachman acknowledged the Greater Towson Council of Community Association's position that they'd like student housing to be contained to Towson's campus but said student housing at that location "makes so much sense.
"We know there are kids out in the community in other apartments, so if we don't build them here, which is as close as you can get to campus without being on campus, they're going to be somewhere else out there," he said.
The first-floor commercial aspect of the project will attempt to cater to both students and the surrounding communities.
Crites, the executive director at DMS, envisions restaurants being "something that the students would enjoy, and (my family and) I could walk uptown and five blocks away, we can go have a burger, grab a salad or have an ice cream cone."
DMS needs the nearby community members for more than just business. Because the property is not zoned for apartments, the project requires a planned unit development (PUD).
The county's PUD process requires community input along the way, and Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said the next couple of months for DMS would mostly involve community outreach.
Meetings are on the books with the Towson Triangle Committee, which Marks formed to make recommendations on developing the area, as well as the Greater Towson Committee and Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.
DMS already carries a strong reputation in the Towson area for its work on the York Road Walgreens just south of the Beltway, but Marks said he "would like them to do whatever they can to accommodate the community's concerns."
Schlachman said that it's something of a hometown project — he's a Stoneleigh resident, while Crites lives in Southland Hills. Schlachman said they will not change their commitment to making the project a success.
He believes the project's anticipated quality and the company's honesty will help build a strong relationship with the community whether they agree on all aspects of it.
"If you're honest with them — this is what we can do and this is what we can't do — at the end of the day, I think there's a respect that's gotten there," Schlachman said. "Even if they might not be happy with 30 percent of what we're doing, at least we've been honest and we've formed a relationship."