Marks submits proposals for Towson-area land-use reviews

After suggestions from residents, community groups, businesses and county planners, County Council members recently closed the door on proposals for zoning changes and reviews in Baltimore County by making their own requests as part of the county's Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.

For 5th District Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson and Perry Hall, one of the more interesting suggestions involved a property he threatened to seek a review for, but ultimately did not: Towson Commons.

Conducted once every four years, the CZMP is a process through which people can ask for the council to review or even change land-use designations on properties anywhere in the county. This past summer and fall, residents were able to make their own requests, and the council members had until the end of November to add to the list.

From here, planning staffers will review the requests, and a series of public hearings will be held in spring 2012. A vote by the council on any changes will come in fall 2012.

Marks said he initially planned to submit a rezoning request for Towson Commons, the 3.9-acre office and retail complex on York Road in Towson that once housed the AMC movie theater.

"I have requested a discussion with the owners of Towson Commons over the past year," Marks said. "I've told the attorney that I thought I needed to be included in the dialogue — and I never heard back, so I raised the issue."

Marks said he really only used the request to facilitate a dialogue, and after he made it known that he might include the property in the CZMP, he was almost immediately contacted by the owners of the property.

"Raising the zoning issue clearly alerted them to my interest in the property," Marks said in an email. "Since I've gotten the message across, I will not be raising this as a zoning issue."

Preserving open space

Marks submitted his rezoning requests, involving some 75 acres in the Towson area, and said he hopes the issues are resolved in a manner that protects what little open space exists in Towson.

"A lot of Towson is already built out," Marks said. "There's not as much development potential as there is in Parkville and Perry Hall.

"What I've tried to do is make sure that property like the Towson reservoir and city-owned land on Burke Avenue are not overdeveloped, in case any parts of them are sold in the future."

One of Marks' requests for review is the Wachs Water Works facility on Burke Avenue, which is leased by the company as a central maintenance depot and serves both the county and city.

Paul Hartman, vice president of the nearby Aigburth Manor Association, said the community has been working with Marks to find an alternative location for Wachs, which he said has been an eyesore in the neighborhood and whose trucks annoy residents with "shrill beeping" when they back up.

County zoning does not apply to state or city-owned property, but Hartman said the rezoning request is "just a forward-looking thing that … would give us protection that we wouldn't get a giant apartment building" in the community should the property be sold.

Marks has also requested that the site of former Loch Raven Elementary School be zoned down from DR 3.5, which allows for 3.5 units per acre of land, to DR 1, which allows just one unit per acre.

Other requests in the Towson area include a 5-acre site on Loch Raven Boulevard and an adjacent 39-acre plot of land owned by Baltimore City. Both properties are undeveloped, but are currently zoned as DR-16, which could allow for up to 16 units per acre.

On that issue, ass well as on a 4.4-acre series of properties between Taylor Avenue and Clearwood Road that are zoned DR 5.5, and the 3-acre Oakleigh Pet Cemetery, Marks is seeking input from the community on the ideal zoning,

In each case, Marks saw the requests as an opportunity to make a difference in communities.

"I believe that zoning and land use represent my greatest power as a County Councilman," Marks said. "It's the opportunity to literally shape the future of the communities I represent"

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