Colony request is surprise issue for Towson-area zoning review

Towson residents are expressing concern after a Comprehensive Zoning Map Process issue raised by County Councilman David Marks has led to a request for an increase in zoning density for the Colony at Kenilworth Apartments.

Marks said the Colony, along with Towson Commons, was one of two properties he submitted for the county's quadrennial zoning review process as a means to bring the developers to the table for discussions of other issues.

"I want to clean up the Colony," Marks said, "and the question is, do we clean up the Colony with it looking the same way it is, or do we clean it up with a redevelopment of the whole site that has some community support?"

Student drinking has been a concern of residents in the area, Marks said, and as a result of his CZMP request, representatives from the county police department, state's attorney's office and the property management firm have been in discussions to improve the situation.

But an unforeseen consequence has been that the owners took advantage of Marks' zoning review of the property to make their own request — that it be rezoned to allow for more units, and some commercial space.

"After I raised the issue, the Colony expressed to me a concern to redevelop the site," Marks said.

Andrea Van Arsdale, director of planning for Baltimore County, said the planning office received a letter from the owners requesting a zoning change on Feb. 13.

Since then, the office has recommended that the property be rezoned from its existing DR 16 category, which allows for 16 units per acre, to RAE 1 and BL CCC, designations that would allows for an apartment building with as many as 40 units per acre — and some commercial retail space.

Community leaders, including Trish Mayhugh, president of the Riderwood Hills Community Association, and David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said they were caught by surprise when they saw the planning office's recommendation for increased zoning at the Colony.

The Planning Board has preliminarily recommended that plan, but community members object, saying the developer's request — and the planning office's support for it — was not made public before the March 20 public hearing.

However, planning staff's recommendation was listed in the log of issues dated March 16. Mayhugh said they were operating off a different list, and the community generally supported Marks' request of no change.

"Because we did not feel there was any change in zoning, there were only two of us who went over to the meeting," Mayhugh said. "Had we known, we would have had 10, maybe 20 people. I don't know who was behind that, but I do feel we were robbed of a right we have to give our opinions."

The topic was a major point of discussion at the April 19 meeting of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.

Both Kosak and Mayhugh said the developers have yet to draft an actual plan for the site — the Office of Planning comments for the issue say a site plan is needed to limit density — but Mayhugh believes any added density could be detrimental to an already-poor traffic situation.

Additionally, she worries that other property owners will follow suit.

"This is the first domino of all the apartment complexes up and down Kenilworth Drive," Mayhugh said. "They're going to want their own retail, parking, increased density. It's not necessary, and it would absolutely change this part of Towson."

An attorney representing the Colony could not be reached for comment.

Ultimately, the fate of the property rests with Marks as it makes its way through the CZMP review process.

After the Planning Board makes its final recommendation on May 3, the County Council will hold public hearings through June, and will vote on the final list by mid-September.

Marks said this past week that there could be "an opportunity to redevelop the site that pretty much eliminates student rentals at the complex, and I think we need to have that conversation."

Mayhugh said Marks "has bent over backward" to let the community know what needs to be done.

"I know a lot of those residents on a first-name basis, and I've already told them I'm not going to do anything without neighborhood support," Marks said. "They need to take me at their word. This is a part of Towson, along with Burkleigh Square and Rodgers Forge, that has borne the brunt of student housing, and I think I would be making a bad decision of not at least entertaining a future without student housing."

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