Towson University unveils proposed updates to master plan

Towson Times
The master plan likely will call for more parking and open space, as well as a :bike Beltway."

Towson University likely will recommend the addition of about 3,000 on-campus residential units for students by 2029 as part of its latest master plan update.

An official report and recommendation won't be ready until October, but the university is 90-to-95 percent finished with the master plan process, Kris Phillips, director of facilities planning, told a small audience at a public forum in the university's administration building on Wednesday night.

The number of "beds" for students on campus would increase from nearly 5,000 to nearly 8,000, Phillips said. The master plan, which is updated every five years, does not set a development timetable for its recommendations, he said.

Also as part of the housing plan, two unnamed residence halls that are among the oldest buildings on campus might be recommended for demolition, because the estimated $26 million maintenance investment on them is thought to be cost-prohibitive, Phillips said

The need for more beds comes as Towson University continues its quest to grow from 23,000 to 25,000 and then cap enrollment. As a result, the university is predicting a need for 450,000 to 500,000 additional square feet of physical space on campus for housing, academics and parking, Phillips said.

The master plan also likely will call for 1,700 additional parking spaces, mainly as a precaution, because the need for parking is expected to lessen because the university plans to be more pedestrian-and-bicycle-friendly, and because studies show that millennials are driving less than previous generations, Phillips said.

Two new parking garages are recommended in an early draft of the new master plan — one on the south campus near the university's football and lacrosse stadium, and another on Cross Campus Drive, possibly in the form of a parking deck that would be built over an existing surface parking lot, Phillips said.

But the master plan draft also calls for a "bike Beltway," a public biking and running path that would loop around the perimeter of the campus, from Towsontown Boulevard to Burke Avenue to York Road to Cross Campus Drive, Phillips said. University officials have had Initial discussions with Baltimore County officials about ceding areas of right-of-way to the university for the path, and reaction has been generally positive, Phillips said. He said County Councilman David Marks, for one, has been pushing for more biking opportunities, and a master plan for biking in the county.

Some recommendations are formalities because design or construction work has already begun. For example, construction is due to start in August on a 90,000-square-foot addition to the Burdick recreation hall, Phillips said.

Other recommendations include changing from a yield lane to a right-turn-only lane from eastbound Burke Avenue to York Road, "in an effort to make it safer for pedestrians," Phillips said. He also said the master plan will call for more sidewalks and other methods of creating more connectivity from the campus to the downtown Towson core.

The master plan draft also recommends improvements to the intersections of Osler Drive and Towsontown Boulevard, and York Road and Burke Avenue, both bad intersections, Phillips said.

And, the master plan will likely call for the construction of several new academic buildings at York and Burke with a community outreach focus, such as a new library or business incubator building.

The master plan is also looking at reducing the number of "unwelcoming" concrete structures on campus, and creating more open spaces for public gatherings, such as the West Village Commons area that is known as The Beach. More green space has been a big priority for area residents who have attended previous master plan forums in recent months.

The master plan suggestions have been rolled out for various community groups over the past two weeks, including presentations to the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. Perhaps as a result, only four people attended the forum Wednesday, but they all complimented university officials on the plan so far.

"It looks very carefully thought out and meets their needs," said Carolyn Payne Tighe, of Wiltondale. But she added, "I have no idea how it's going to affect us. We're right on top of this."

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