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Councilman introduces legislation, zoning change to alter proposed affordable housing project in Towson

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks has introduced legislation and a zoning change that he said would “at least address many of the concerns" that residents of a historic Towson community have with a proposed affordable housing development, but a community leader said neighbors were still opposed to the project.

Red Maple Place is a 56-unit affordable housing project that would go on a 2.5-acre plot of land in East Towson, a historically black community that was founded by freed slaves.

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Community members have argued that the development would increase traffic congestion, worsen stormwater problems and deprive the neighborhood of open space. A resident of a neighboring community has filed a request to downzone the property, and residents of East Towson have been raising awareness and contacting local officials, as examples of the resistance the proposed project is facing.

Marks, a Republican who represents the Towson area, said he would “absolutely” be voting to reduce the number of units that are permissible to be built on the property — a process commonly called downzoning — though he was not sure how much he eventually would lower the density. He said the zoning change “could” force Homes for America, the developer behind Red Maple Place, to change the number of units in the project, which would be built between East Joppa Road, East Pennsylvania Avenue, Fairmount Avenue and McManus Way,.

Marks also introduced legislation in early February that changes development setbacks specifically in the East Towson area. The action would allow developers to “shift the project west" and preserve some existing green space, he said.

“I would certainly prefer for the Red Maple project to be smaller and shorter. I’ve communicated that to the developer,” Marks said.

But Nancy Goldring, a community leader in East Towson, said residents remain opposed to the proposed development.

“No one is interested in seeing anything built there,” Goldring said, adding that she saw some potential redesigns from Homes for America, but they were entirely aesthetic, not substantial to the building’s size or footprint.

In an email, Diane Clyde, executive vice president at Homes for America, said the firm is working with the community “to attempt to address concerns and obtain feedback.”

She said that, following a community input meeting, the firm worked on a potential redesign and “re-evaluated some architectural elements” of the project.

“We are in the process of determining whether the changes will be implemented and are continuing to evaluate input received from the community,” she wrote.

Goldring said residents of East Towson would continue to oppose the project and said she was looking forward to a county zoning meeting where residents can speak for or against proposed zoning changes, like the one Marks introduced to downzone the property.

“We’re pouring all our energy into this,” Goldring said.

Baltimore County is under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to encourage more affordable housing units in the county; a $2.1 million, 40-year loan to assist Red Maple Place was approved through the county executive’s office last summer.

Marks, a Republican who voted against the HOME Act, which bans income discrimination for rentals in the county, said his opposition to Red Maple is not because it’s an affordable housing development, but because of where the building would be located.

“I would be seeking to modify this proposal if it was not an affordable housing project,” Marks said. “I’ve always said that if we’re building affordable housing, we should move it [closer to] transit and economic center[s].”

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Red Maple would be sandwiched between existing developments (like the Harris Hill condominiums) and is about a half-mile from downtown Towson.

In a letter to County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., who has voiced support for the Red Maple Place development, Marks asked the county to help declare East Towson a formal county historic district, resurface roads and make pedestrian improvements in the neighborhood. He also asked for the administration’s support in the reconstruction of a community sign — which read “Historic East Towson," “Welcome," and “Established 1802” — that a driver crashed into more than a year ago.

Sean Naron, a spokesman for the county, said in an email the administration was “reviewing” Marks’ letter and that Olszewski remains committed to providing equitable and affordable housing in the county, “while ensuring that this project will be a high-quality asset to the community and the residents of our county.”

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