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Despite revisions, student housing development in downtown Towson leaves residents concerned

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

After undergoing a community input meeting, two Design Panel Review sessions and revisions to the original concept plan, a housing project being planned for university students in downtown Towson is still opposed by residents in the nearby community.

The 16-story project, which is planned for 706 Washington Ave., calls for 147 units and 350 beds, as well as a café, a fitness space, outdoor and rooftop terraces, 35 parking spaces, 100 bike racks, scooters for rent or ride-sharing and a private shuttle.

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Residents who participated in the review sessions have voiced concerns ranging from the potential environmental impact to noise and traffic.

The property, which borders Ware Avenue, Washington Avenue and West Joppa Road, would be a mile south of Goucher College and a mile north of Towson University.

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The project is marketed toward out-of-state graduate and undergraduate students who may be looking to leave their cars at home, according to the design review.

The 706 Washington Ave. project got off to a rough start late last year when during the community input meeting the developer cited support from Towson University to construct the building; however, university officials said they had not spoken to developers regarding the project.

University officials said last week they could not comment because the building is not a university undertaking.

Manzo Development, which has proposed the project, is hoping to open it in 2022.

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In July, the project was presented at a Design Review Panel meeting held by the Baltimore County Department of Planning and was resubmitted and revised for another review in September.

Jenifer German Nugent, division chief of the Development Review Division of the Department of Planning, said Manzo’s plans have “come a long way,” since the original concept plan was submitted.

“The concept plan had very little info and detailing,” she said. “We made a lot of review comments and we worked with the applicant very closely and repeatedly to get the designs where they needed to be for an acceptable [position] for the design panel.”

The original proposal called for 121 dormitory units, 241 apartments and 482 beds, and 46 parking spaces, according to the concept plan.

The project still must go through a development plan hearing, the next step in the process. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Beth Miller, who is on the executive committee for Green Towson Alliance, an organization that works to maintain an environmentally friendly community, attended both review panels.

Involved in an organization that works to promote a “green” community, she said she is concerned the 706 Washington Ave. proposal will come at the expense of trees being planted downtown.

“Downtown Towson has steadily lost street trees that are not being replaced, and now we are going to have a building that you can’t even plant street trees in front of,” she said. “It is very disturbing that the county is allowing a building to be built that will preclude the planting of street trees.”

Additionally, she said the height of the building would create canyons and shadows that make it harder for natural light to shine between buildings.

Despite the meetings that allowed the community to voice their concerns, she said she did not feel heard.

Sandy Gurchik, a resident who lives across the street from the property in the Penthouse Condominiums on Allegheny Avenue, agreed.

She said she felt the developers were “going through the motions” by holding meetings with the community, but did not take their concerns seriously.

“[The developers] had a hearing for us and we voiced our concerns, yet this project is [still happening],” she said. “The residents and businesses have been ignored.”

Developer Mark Manzo did not respond to repeated email requests for comment.

Gurchik said some of her concerns about the project include increased noise and traffic, litter and pollution.

She said she would rather the property be used for something that better meets the needs of the community, such as a park.

“We need more green space, not more buildings in downtown Towson,” Gurchik said.

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