Pact with neighbors on Towson Y plan averts appeals hearing

The Towson Family Center Y on Friday reached an agreement with a set of neighbors who opposed the Y's redevelopment plan, an agreement that saw the Y make concessions on its new design but allows for construction for the new $11 million building to begin.

"We are tickled to death that we could reach an agreement with these folks," said John Holman, the board's community relations representative. "The Y worked very hard, and has been anxious to make it a signature building in the Towson area. We've worked with the neighborhood over a period of 10 years on this."

The agreement, which was struck Friday and finalized Monday, allowed for an administrative appeals hearing — which had been brought by the neighbors and was scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 2 — to be canceled.

Carroll Holzer, attorney for several neighbors of the Towson Y, said the appeal sought to prove that earlier changes to the Y's building plan, which changed the new building's location on the property and lowered it from two stories to one, were "material" changes — and thus should have triggered a new public hearing to allow residents to air their concerns.

As initially presented, the plans, and the changes, were approved without the need for a hearing.

Tuesday's scheduled hearing would have argued that a public hearing needed to be included in the process — and stood as a potential delay for the new building, slated for the 17-acre property on Chesapeake Avenue.

With the agreement, Holman said construction of the new building, which will include a saltwater pool, a rock climbing wall, a large fitness center and several multi-purpose rooms, plus a gymnasium, can begin immediately.

Holzer said negotiations between the two parties actually began nearly two months ago, but the signed agreement between the Y and neighbors was submitted to the county Board of Appeals on Monday.

"The whole purpose of them taking an appeal was to try to shield their property from the Y's new facility," Holzer said.

Initially, some neighbors opposed the placement of the new Y building in an area that they considered too close to property lines — they had wanted the building to be relocated to another part of the site. But many factors, including a long-discussed plan for the county to purchase some of the YMCA fields after the new building is completed, prevented that.

Instead, the Y agreed on three stipulations. First, the back of the roughly 48,000-square-foot Towson Family Center Y building will be painted a dark, tan-like color that Holzer said will disguise the structure better than the "light-yellow, cream color" that is planned for other outside walls.

Additionally, the rooftop heating and air conditioning units will be relocated to help keep the noise level down, and approximately $10,000 of additional landscaping — including small bushes and taller trees — will be planted on the building's north side to further hide the building from the concerned neighbors, Holzer said.

"Originally, the Y felt the existing foliage and landscaping would be sufficient to hide it, but we've gotten much more landscaping that will be provided right along the back of the building," Holzer said.

"We made some substantial changes at their request," Holman said. "We're just happy that those neighbors have found a way to see some of the good that this building is going to bring to the neighborhood."

William Smith, a neighbor who had expressed concerns about the Y and the building's placement in relationship to a community trail, said Monday that he understood that the "T's were crossed and I's dotted."

"There was an official written agreement," he said. "I did sign it."

Smith, a member of the Towson Family Center Y since he moved to the area in 1997, said he has never had any doubt that the facility — built in the 1950s — needed to be replaced, but he felt it should be encroach upon neighbors and the trail.

Smith said that having to oppose the Towson Y, and the process of negotiating and organizing an appeal "has been an awful experience. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

Holzer acknowledged that the appeal drove a wedge between the two parties, and it took some time "to get some trust, in terms of both sides, to arrive at what was an appropriate solution."

Ultimately, he said, his clients are happy with the settlement.

Katie V. Jones contributed to this story.

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