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Developer cited support from Towson University for off-campus dorm plan. TU said conversations never happened.

Developer Mark Manzo speaks Dec. 17 at a community input meeting for 706 Washington Ave., a proposed student housing project.
Developer Mark Manzo speaks Dec. 17 at a community input meeting for 706 Washington Ave., a proposed student housing project. (Cody Boteler/Cody Boteler)

A developer who wants to construct a 15-story, 241-unit student housing building in downtown Towson said during a community input meeting on Dec. 17 that he’d spoken with Towson University administrators about their interest in the project, demand for student housing and partnering on transportation to and from campus.

But, university officials said, those discussions did not take place.

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“Contrary to comments made at a recent community meeting, the university administration has not had conversations regarding the development of the property and is not seeking to build nor partner on any student housing off campus,” university spokesman Sean Welsh said.

Mark Manzo, the developer behind the project, said during the meeting that he had spoken with members of the administration at Towson University, and that the school was generally supportive of the project. In an email sent Dec. 19, Manzo clarified that he had met with members of the university’s parking and transportation team and, he said, they committed to working with him.

Welsh said Towson University has not committed to anything related to the proposed development project.

Manzo said multiple times during the community input meeting that the concept for the project being presented to the community to review and provide input on was just that, the initial concept.

As presented, the building at 706 Washington Ave. would have 15 stories, climbing around 180 feet into the Towson skyline. The first two floors would be small parking garages, and the third floor would be a lobby level that also has 13, two-bed units. In total, the building would have 241 apartment-style units, with two beds in each.

The building is designed for student housing, and Manzo said tenants would have to show proof of enrollment in an accredited institution to live there; it would not be limited to Towson University students. Towson University has about 5,900 students living on campus, according to its website, out of a total undergraduate population of about 19,600 students.

“I have significant concerns with this project,” said County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson. “It’s not the student housing part. My concerns are more driven by the scale of the project.”

One major point of contention during the community meeting was that the building, as proposed, would have fewer than 50 parking spots on-site. Many in the crowd of about 70 residents who attended the meeting said they were concerned that students living there would take up parking space at the nearby Immaculate Conception Church, which houses a school during the week.

Others said they were concerned about students occupying street parking in nearby residential West Towson, and the overall impact on traffic the development would have in downtown Towson.

During the meeting, Manzo said he was committed to working with community members to address their concerns, saying at points that he would be happy to make a donation to the nearby church and the West Towson Neighborhood Association to address concerns over parking and traffic.

Manzo said he didn’t expect many students who live in the building to drive cars, instead saying he would target out-of-state students who leave their cars at home. Additionally, the developer said he had received a commitment from Towson University that its shuttles would serve the residents at 706 Washington Ave., “no further than 1-2 blocks away.”

Manzo also said that the proposed Towson Circulator, a free bus that would be modeled off Baltimore’s Charm City Circulator, has committed to serving the building.

Marks, the County Councilman, who has pushed for the circulator, said all the stops for the proposed shuttle are preliminary.

“There is certainly no commitment,” he said.

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The community input meeting was contentious, with community members at times shouting their concerns or questions, and Manzo and David Karceski, an attorney working with Manzo, cutting off those people.

Others at the community input meeting were concerned with the project’s lack of open space and with the way the building would alter the streetscape for pedestrians. Other questions addressed whether the building would be safe, with hundreds of students living in one space without resident advisers, unlike on a college campus.

Attempting to assuage those concerns, Manzo said the ground floor would have a coffee shop and an art gallery, and that the students would be bound by an agreement with a management company that misbehavior could result in eviction.

Under Baltimore County regulations, the developers now have one year to submit a development plan to the county. The plan is supposed to take into consideration concerns raised at the community input meeting and address issues presented to the developers from a design review committee.

An administrative law judge then has the final say on whether the development plan is approved. County officials said a second community input meeting can be requested, but there is nothing requiring that one is held.

If approved, Manzo estimated the project could take one and a half to two years to complete.

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