A concept site plan from the development company that manages Towson Square in downtown Towson received the green light from Baltimore County planners to build a turf field and patio totaling more than 4,200 square feet at the movie theater and restaurant property.
Retail Properties of America Inc., an Illinois-based real estate investment firm that bought Towson Square for $40.5 million in 2015, got conditional approval from the county’s Design Review Panel on Oct. 14.
The plan includes closing the entrance off East Joppa Road into the development and building an elevated 2,279-square-foot patio there between Bonefish Grill and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse.
The patio would cover eight parallel parking spaces that currently sit between the restaurants in front of the roundabout for the Cinemark Theater, and would match the elevation of the restaurants.
A 1,950-square-foot turf field would be installed between the On the Border restaurant and Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt.
Craig Friedson, assistant vice president of development for Retail Properties' Eastern division, envisions holding live music performances and other activities on the patio and field.
Towson Square is more than 96% leased, and was redeveloped for $85 million by Heritage Properties and The Cordish Cos., the same Baltimore-area team that renovated Towson Circle.
Heritage Properties and Cordish sold Towson Square to Retail Properties in 2015. Retail Properties also owns the former Towson Circle site, which it redeveloped as the mixed-use Circle East at York and Joppa roads.
Nick Over, vice president of development for Retail Properties' Eastern division, said “the one thing we’re missing” from its $30 million Circle East property “is something that we think is vital to retail and mixed-use environments and connection with the community — a gathering space."
Renderings presented during the virtual Design Review Panel meeting show various community events that could take place on the turf, including outdoor movie screenings, yoga classes, pergola swing sets and games.
“We don’t think there’s anything like that" in Towson, Over said.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues with no end in sight, and with state and local edicts on indoor dining restrictions subject to change, the patio also would expand the opportunity for restaurants like BJ’s and Bonefish Grill that currently have limited outdoor dining space.
Some planners worried the additions will create traffic problems along Joppa Road, from which drivers currently can enter Towson Square. They asked the developer and BCT Design Group, the architect on the project, to go back to the drawing board and mitigate the pinch point, where traffic congestion is likely to occur.
The plans leave a roughly 18-foot curb cut that planners said make it appear like an entrance to drivers.
Developers said they plan to install a planter spanning the width of the curb cut, 9.6 feet inside it, to prevent drivers from turning in or attempting to use the space to make a U-turn.
“If we eliminated that curb cut,” the developer would have “to go through an entire process” of having the plan reviewed again, said David Karceski, an attorney speaking in support of the development.
The time to get through the development process is “about at a minimum a year long,” Karceski said. “It’s a challenge when we’re in times where month to month is difficult to plan around.”
The conditional approval called for Retail Properties to address the pinch point on Joppa Road with more landscaping, and retain a 6-foot-wide walkway from Joppa Road to the Cinemark Theater.
Over said the goal is to have the additions ready by next year.