Towson residents spoke out Tuesday at the Baltimore County Council work session against the proposed sale of the Towson fire station property at the corner of Bosley Avenue and York Road for commercial redevelopment as a Royal Farms gas station and convenience store, and the relocation of the fire station to another location.
"We oppose moving the fire station from its current location to the proposed location" at Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard, West Towson resident Peggy King said. "Why can't the fire station be built on the existing site?"
King's question, along with her community's opposition, were frequently repeated at the two-hour-long work session, when the council heard testimony on the sale of the North Point Government Center, Randallstown Police Substation, and the Towson fire station.
The county council must approve the Towson firehouse sale, which Baltimore County says has a present value of $8.5 million. But a panel of county officials selected the bids, and the winning bid of the Royal Farms project has met opposition since its announcement last month.
CVP-TF, LLC, a company including Caves Valley Partners, bid for the site to develop as a Royal Farms gas station and convenience store with accompanying retail and a pad site county officials said would likely be a restaurant.
Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, questioned county officials at length about the sale, with many of the inquiries stemming from community issues raised during the process.
Marks asked whether a new building could be placed on the current site or the old building could be renovated, but county officials were adamant that the building could not be salvaged.
"We've used up the existing life on this facility," county administrative officer Fred Homan said. "As a matter of fact, we've more than used it up."
Planning Director Andrea Van Arsdale said all three buildings up for sale, including the fire station, were "outdated and functionally obsolete."
At Marks' request, Van Arsdale also detailed that the Planned unit development process, which the Royal Farms would be subject to because gas stations are not allowed in areas zoned for town centers.
Development is allowed at a higher density than a property's zoning through the PUD process, provided there is a demonstrated community need and community benefit. The PUD process also offers numerous opportunities for community input.
The longest line of questioning from Marks was directed at Homan, as the councilman asked about the need to sell the fire station property before a new one was built. Community leaders have expressed concerns that a new fire station will not fit at the planned site.
Homan said "there is nothing whatsoever that stops us from building on that spot," though officials confirmed after the meeting that they were also in negotiations to buy the property at 204 Courtland Avenue—the only property near the site that is not already county-owned.
State Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents Towson, spoke first on behalf of his constituents who oppose the sale. He said that when you factor in the cost of the new fire station, which County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said upon the announcement of the sale was at least $6 million, and the cost of the Courtland Avenue building—which county tax records say was appraised in July at $489,800—the plans were "really a zero-sum game."
County attorney Michael Field said during the meeting that the sale contracts were contingent on the eventual planning approval for the development, and would expire in December 2018 should that not be granted.
Josh Glikin, an attorney who lives in West Towson, suggested the council insist on such protections for themselves should the Courtland Avenue sale fall through or issues arise with the new fire station.
Josh Levinson, a West Towson resident, said his business frequently fundraises for the county's first responders, and that Towson's firefighters "absolutely deserve a state-of-the-art facility," though they deserve it where it is.
"We want the fire station to be the gateway to Towson, not Royal Farms," Levinson said.
Those who didn't produce legal or political reasons for the council to oppose the sale spoke from their community's perspective. Many of the speakers came from West Towson residents, specifically those who live on Morningside Drive, which overlooks the fire station site across the intersection of Kenilworth Drive and Bosley Avenue.
King, president of the Morningside Community Association, expressed concern about lighting, noise, and the potential for criminal activity at the convenience store.
"This proposal is totally unacceptable to our community," King said.
Marks, who said he would consider his vote over Thanksgiving, issued a statement after the meeting, and said he appreciates "every citizen who exercised their right to testify today."
"I want to clarify that the vote on Monday night does not approve any project at the fire station site," Marks said in a statement. "I stood with West Towson by opposing commercial rezoning west of Bosley Avenue, and will listen to their concerns if this process unfolds."
The council will vote on the contract on Monday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers.