A divided Baltimore County Council voted Monday to sell a controversial county-owned property to a private developer at a steeply discounted price.
Under the deal, Towson-based Caves Valley Partners will buy a parcel at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue for $6.9 million — although the company will only directly pay about $5 million as part of the complex contract. That's significantly lower than the original purchase price of $8.3 million.
The vote was 4-3 — a rare split for the council — with council members Vicki Almond, Todd Crandell and Wade Kach voting against the revised contract.
Council Chairman Julian Jones and council members Cathy Bevins, David Marks and Tom Quirk voted in favor of the revised contract.
The property, considered by some to be a "gateway" site into downtown Towson, has been a source of controversy ever since County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans to sell it for private development in 2012. The property has housed a fire station and public works yard.
Caves Valley Partners was the winning bidder for the site, offering the $8.3 million with plans to build a Royal Farms gas station and convenience store, as well as two buildings for retail development. Initially called Towson Gateway, the project's name was changed to Towson Station.
Many residents opposed the Royal Farms concept, saying a gas station and convenience store would be incompatible with the site. Some also expressed environmental concerns.
Last summer, Caves Valley agreed to abandon the Royal Farms proposal after months of wrangling over the project. They worked with some neighbors on a legal document memorializing the agreement not to build a gas station.
Caves Valley also renegotiated the sale price with the county, on the grounds that the property would be less valuable without a gas station. They agreed to a new price of about $6.9 million, but Caves Valley will receive credit toward $1.9 million of the purchase price by foregoing future property tax credits it would be eligible for by revitalizing a downtown property.
The council was required to sign off on the new deal.
As council members prepared to vote Monday, some Towson residents held up pieces of paper with eyeballs on them to symbolize that they were watching their public officials.
Before the vote, Kach read aloud from emails that he said he received that showed Caves Valley's lawyer coordinating with a top Kamenetz administration official for the county to cut down trees on the property. (You can read the email here.)
The removal of about 30 trees last April incensed neighbors and violated a resolution that was in effect at the time that governed the development. Residents dubbed the incident "tree-gate" and protested last spring and again this month.
"It shows there was a working relationship with the county and the developer that wants to buy the land," said Kach, a Cockeysville Republican.
Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, said he's been expressing outrage about the trees ever since they were cut down a year ago. But Marks said now he's focused on the best path forward for the property, even if the deal was imperfect.
"Voting in favor of this was the most straightforward pat to getting rid of the gas station," Marks said in an interview.
The meeting took an unruly turn toward the end, when Towson resident Mark Lee spoke during the public comment period, praising those who voted against the deal and criticizing those who voted for it.
He singled out Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat who is running for county executive. "Thank you for your vote, although in this election year, I find it very, very peculiar you voted this way," he said. "But thanks anyway."
Lee went on to praise state Sen. Jim Brochin, who also is a Democratic county executive candidate. Brochin was not present but has previously criticized the county for selling the property and cutting down the trees. Quirk said Lee was "a Jim Brochin propaganda artist."
Then shouting ensued between audience members and council members, and Bevins and Kach traded words on the dais over whether he shared the email about the tree removal. Jones, the chairman, banged his gavel repeatedly to try and restore order before finally adjourning the meeting.
Arthur Adler, a partner in Caves Valley, attended the meeting but declined to comment. He's previously said he believes people will like the development once it's built.
Kamenetz has declined repeated interview requests on the deal, including on Monday.
The Kamenetz administration said Monday it expects to spend $153,000 on the Towson property at York and Bosley, including for demolition, removing trees, pest control, capping off water and sewer lines and removing a fuel tank. The fuel tank was removed in recent days.