After slightly rocky path, Marks' bill on West Towson trail passes council

Two pieces of legislation sponsored by 5th District Councilman David Marks — one regarding a bike trail in Towson and another on the county's Planned Unit Development ordinance — faced a rocky road last week with scrutiny from citizens and fellow council members.

But after each was amended to assuage concerns, both passed at Monday's County Council meeting.

The first, a resolution that adds a quarter-mile West Towson neighborhood trail to the Eastern Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycling Plan, had been challenged by the West Towson Neighborhood Association Friday. The trail segment trail stretches behind the Towson Y property between Allegheny and Chesapeake avenues.

Stephanie Keene, president of the neighborhood association, sent a letter to Marks on June 1 that outlined a litany of concerns that the community had with the bill.

Chiefly, the neighborhood resisted the idea that the wooded trail would be paved, and that signage would be added to the neighborhood to publicize it. They also wanted it to remain a hiking and walking trail — not a bicycle trail.

After seeing the letter, Marks spoke with Keene and on Monday, he amended the bill to insert "hiking" into the language, as well as add a stipulation that states "the West Towson Trail will be constructed as a limited use, neighborhood pathway with minimal signage, and built only after public input as been considered."

Marks had said adding the trail to the plan would help its standing for state funding applications.

"The whole purpose is to secure funding to stabilize the trail and stop erosion," Marks said. "The resolution will help me get funding form the state recreational trails program to provide some important repairs to the trail, and I've made it abundantly clear that any improvements will be done with the community in mind."

"There's no sinister motivations behind improving a trail that is clearly disabled," he said.

The letter also questioned the timing of the resolution, which was introduced at the May 24 council meeting and discussed at a work session on May 29.

Mike Ertel, a WTNA board member, said the board emailed Marks to ask him to hold the legislation until it got a chance to discuss it at its June meeting, but Marks said the deadline for trails funding is July 1, and the application would suffer without being included in the county plan.

With the amendments, the measured passed unanimously.

PUD amendments approved

Marks' second bill, co-sponsored by 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, makes changes to the PUD process in the county.

The Planned Unit Development process is one in which developers can pursue more intense development than the zoning would otherwise permit — provided there is a demonstrated need and community benefit.

As introduced, the bill clarified timing of public input meetings after plans are submitted, and also identified departments that would be included in departmental reviews.

At a work session last week, Councilman Ken Oliver of the 4th District challenged a provision of the bill that would allow PUD projects outside of the county's Urban Rural Demarcation Line. PUDs are generally not permitted outside the demarcation line as a means to discourage sprawl.

On May 31, Marks said he had talked to Quirk and wouldn't pull the bill, but would seek to amend it.

On Monday, 6th District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins offered an amendment removing the provision that allows PUD projects outside of the URDL.

"I believe many sections of this bill will lead to better and more efficient development control, but others have caused a lot of concern for residents in my district," Bevins said in a statement. "For me, the provisions ... that would allow PUDs outside the URDL anywhere public water and sewer exists simply goes too far."

A separate amendment by Marks, Quirk, Bevins, and Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, who represents the 2nd District, requires minutes from input meetings and agency comments during the review process to be posted online.

It also adds the Department of Public Works, along with the Department of Planning and the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, to the list of agencies that review PUDs.

"These amendments address many of the concerns raised by community organizations," Marks said in an email. "Because of these reforms, communities have an earlier opportunity to evaluate proposals, and for the first time, see the comments online from reviewing agencies."

Both that amendment and Bevins' passed with a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Ken Oliver, who represents the 4th District, abstaining. Oliver also abstained from voting on the bill, which passed 6-0 as well.

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