Caves Valley Partners, the developer of Towson Row, has agreed to pay an additional $95,000 in open space waiver fees, beyond the $55,000 that the company is required to pay Baltimore County.
The deal was struck in late December and recently announced that the additional money will be paid to two community groups, the West Towson Neighborhood Association and the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. The GTCCA will receive 80 percent of the new money and the West Towson association will receive 20 percent, said Carrie Cronin, president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association.
The money will be held in escrow until Caves Valley breaks ground, probably in the next two years, Cronin said.
Caves Valley also agreed to make a $200,000 contribution toward new turf fields at several high schools in the county, including Towson High. The company also agreed to place restrictions on signage on buildings that face surrounding neighborhoods, Cronin said. She added that the company promised not to allow unwanted businesses, such a hookah lounges, night clubs and tattoo parlors, in Towson Row.
The $350 million, mixed-use project calls for high-rise towers for offices, apartments and student housing, plus restaurants, retail shops, a hotel and a Whole Foods grocery store at the 5-acre site near the corner of York Road and Towsontown Boulevard.
A deal was struck after county Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen approved Caves Valley's development plan over the objections of West Towson and the GTCCA. Both community groups appealed Beverungen's decision to the county's Board of Appeals.
"That brought about a conversation" and ultimately a settlement between Caves Valley and the community groups, Cronin said. "They agreed that they would give us additional money, which they did not have to do."
Developers of residential projects in Baltimore County have a choice of paying waiver fees in lieu of providing open space as part of their projects. But many community leaders have complained that the fees are too low.
The Towson Row settlement was reached before the County Council passed a resolution by council member David Marks on Dec. 21 that requires developers of new residential projects in Towson's core to drastically increase open space waiver fees to $2,000 per unit, compared to $55,000 before the bill was passed, a 1,300 percent increase.
After the settlement was reached, the board on Christmas Eve dismissed the appeal with the blessing of the two community groups.
Caves Valley Partners is the second developer in the past month to agree to pay higher fees before Marks' bill was passed. Federal Realty Investment Trust, developer of The Flats, a 105-unit, market-rate apartment building planned in Towson, agreed earlier in December to pay $150,000 in fees, not $5,000, as previously proposed for that project. Sixty percent of those fees will be paid to the county government and 40 percent to the GTCCA.
Marks said he was prepared to propose that his bill apply retroactively to projects in the pipeline, including Towson Row, but that he feared opposition by some council members, or a veto by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
Cronin, a real estate agent, said that although most residents supported the project, she sensed a generational divide in her community, with some younger residents, many of them young families that have moved to the county from Baltimore City, welcoming the project, but some older, longtime residents being more resistant to it.
Cronin's take was that, "We were unhappy because developers were coming into town and Baltimore County was not requiring them to pay higher fees. It seems week after week, there's some new developer coming in with a new high-rise or grandiose plan [and paying] next to nothing" in open space waiver fees.
"We were happy that we could resolve the issue," said Mike Ertel president of the GTCCA. "Nobody ever wants to get into legal issues."
"The deal got done because it was important to Councilman Marks that we meet with the community," said Arthur Adler, a partner in Caves Valley. Adler said he also has "a long relationship" with Ertel.
Adler also said the $200,000 for the fields "was important to the county executive."
Marks said, 'We were really at a logger jam," until he arranged a meeting at the Towson Diner on Oct. 19 with Adler, Ertel and Cronin. "We were able to work out the parameters of the agreement," Marks said. "I think in the end, we reached an agreement everyone was happy with."
Since the council hadn't yet taken up Marks' bill, "It gave Caves Valley and us a little breathing room to get the deal done," said Joshua Glikin, an attorney and West Towson resident, who represented the community in the dispute over the original fees.
"They (Caves Valley) wanted to work with the community, and we really appreciate it," Cronin said.
Now, West Towson and the GTCCA must decide how to spend the extra money. Cronin said she would like to see walking paths in the neighborhood, as well as more trees planted and an information board in West Towson Park.
The GTCCA will set up a trust or a separate nonprofit to handle the money and will form a committee of GTCCA members to decide what projects to spend the money on, Ertel said. He said the GTCCA would be open to projects such as community gardens.
There's high interest in the money, Ertel said. "I already have people coming in and telling me how to spend it."