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Community effort to kill affordable housing project in East Towson blocked; Radcliffe Plaza open for mixed-use development

A proposed affordable housing development in East Towson staunchly opposed by community members who fear increased traffic, school overcrowding and anticipated loss of trees survived changes after the County Council approved its quadrennial Comprehensive Zoning Map Process during a special session last week.

County Councilman David Marks, who represents the Towson area, opposed a change to the plan requested that would have ruled out the development of an affordable apartment complex.

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As proposed, the Red Maple Place project would create 56 affordable apartment units — 22 one-bedroom units, 17 two-bedroom units and 17 three-bedroom units.

A proposed change, put forward by the Harris Hills Condo Association, East Towson Community Association and Green Towson Alliance, would have changed the zoning to preclude the construction of an apartment building there.

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With a planned entrance and exit on Joppa Road, opponents to the project say it will further congest traffic, exacerbate stormwater runoff by removing trees, and could add students to already crowded schools.

“It’s the only wooded lot in East Towson with a stream, with a wetland,” and Homes For America, an Annapolis-based nonprofit housing developer, won a variance to deviate from zoning requirements and cut away 75% of the forest buffer, said Beth Miller of the Green Towson Alliance.

The boundaries of East Towson “have been encroached upon over the years,” Miller added, and “there are a number of other affordable housing projects [nearby]. This lot is one of the few wooden lots left in Towson, let alone East Towson.”

When asked for comment about the failed proposed change, Nancy Goldring, a vocal opponent of the development and the newly elected president of the Northeast Towson Improvement Association, referred a reporter to a letter she penned to County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. this week.

“After being denied the right to home ownership in Towson for nearly a century, what remains of Historic East Towson is finally a homeowner community,” Goldring wrote.

“Red Maple Place, as currently planned, would ruin our streetscape, decimate property values, diminish parking for events at our cultural hub … and send good neighbors elsewhere,” she wrote.

But under a 2016 conciliation agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Baltimore County is required to “take all necessary steps” to encourage developers to build 1,000 affordable housing units across the county over a period of 12 years, or 83 units per year.

Marks, who said he wrestled with the prospect of rezoning the land, also said he plans to work with the developer or explore legislation to shrink the size of the proposed project.

“There are other ways to modify this proposal than downzoning,” Marks said. “Not everything has to occur through the zoning process.”

Marks said his goal during the overall rezoning process was to protect open space through “Neighborhood Commons” designations and to limit potential development in areas facing already-crowded schools, particularly in the eastern portion of the district.

Properties designated “Neighborhood Commons” cannot be developed, no matter what the underlying zoning allows.

In the Idlewylde neighborhood near Maldon and Parkway roads, Marks reduced the residential zoning from 5.5 homes to 1.5 homes per acre allowed to be built on almost 15 acres of land, a move widely supported by the community.

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The Towson Republican also supported a Neighborhood Commons overlay, an additional layer of zoning restrictions that can be added to a property, at Radebaugh Park in Towson and changed the zoning designation on the west side of York Road between Dumbarton and Overbrook roads to the highly restrictive “Community Business” designation, nixing the potential for new drive-through fast-food chains.

Marks supported reducing the zoning in the heart of Historic East Towson to allow 3.5 homes per acre, which he said in an email “will reduce the likelihood of investors purchasing lots and constructing high-density development in the heart of East Towson.”

Marks fielded a quarter of the County Council’s rezoning requests: 79 of a total 308, the most among council members; 88% of that land will be downzoned, Marks said.

With the rezoning changes adopted Aug. 25, Marks said the density of future development has been reduced on 557 acres of land in his district, and zoning that would open up more opportunity for development has been changed on 40 acres.

Thirty acres of land for which changes were requested will remain untouched, he said.

“There’s been growth in downtown Towson and I would argue that’s the place where we should have redevelopment,” Marks said.

Marks also supported a “Commercial, Community Core District” zoning overlay on one commercial property managed by Kimco Realty that will allow for housing units at its Radcliffe Plaza shopping center on York Road near Fairmount Avenue.

This designation can be applied to properties in Baltimore County and allows for a combination of commercial and residential development.

Marks denied Kimco’s request for the same rezoning at two of its other commercial properties, Fullerton Plaza and Putty Hill Plaza.

Marks said he didn’t expect to see housing added to Radcliffe Plaza for another five to seven years. He added that plans to overhaul county legislation that deals with development in districts with crowded schools could address community concerns about further strain on schools should residences be added to the shopping center.

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