American Legion Post 22 members are worried about the proposed 101 York project looming over their next-door property, post members told DMS development Tuesday evening.
American Legion Post 22 members are worried about the proposed 101 York project looming over their next-door property, post members told DMS development Tuesday evening. (Rendering courtesy of DMS Development)

Towson's American Legion Post No. 22 has lost half of its original eight acres over the years, former post Commander Jim Rebbert said. Some to eminent domain for county roads, some encroached upon by Towson University, he said.

But its prospective new neighbor is a bridge too far, he and other American Legion members said at a community input meeting Tuesday on the 101 York mixed-use student housing and retail project.

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"There are a lot of things that could be done," Rebbert said during the meeting held in the county's Jefferson Building. "I still look at it as putting a 10-pound building on a 5-pound site."

The project from DMS Development is being proposed as a planned unit development (PUD) under county zoning law. That means the County Council must vote on it separately from the quadrennial rezoning process, and it doesn't necessarily have to adhere to existing zoning for the property.

The site at 101 York Road of the proposed development is currently zoned business major, although the next-door Towson University Marriott Conference Hotel is zoned residential. In 101 York's case, exceptions include setbacks, parking layout and building height.

The 13-story project (with two levels of parking above ground and two more below ground) will include 248 units and 611 beds, but only 495 total parking spaces. Some parking spaces will serve street-level retail and not be within the gated, four-level resident garage.

Through its PUD process, the county allows development of a higher density than a property's zoning allows, provided there is a demonstrated community need and benefit. Given the building's close proximity to Towson University, the developers see it as a natural place to build an off-campus dorm that can draw students out of residential neighborhoods.

Construction on the $75 million development could break ground as soon as next summer with the first move-ins perhaps by September 2017.

It was the project's third community input meeting, a rarity set off by many American Legion stakeholders being unavailable for the second meeting due to the funeral of a past Towson post commander. The first input meeting ws held in mid-May.

As part of the PUD process, DMS must have a development plan ready within a year or start the process of input meetings over again.

Like the second meeting held earlier in October, parking and traffic (from both cars and pedestrians) were chief among neighbors' concerns. Also among the issues on tap were protection of Towson Run (the development does not touch the stream's flood plain) and state approvals needed for access to York Road.

Many residents were skeptical of developers' claims students would cross at either York Road and Burke Avenue or the bridge near the Marriott hotel that traverses Burke Avenue.

Therese McAllister, president of the Southland Hills Community Association, seemed resigned to the development being built. She asked about the possibility of Towson University officials granting their blessing to weekend guest parking in the nearby Towsontown Garage, just off Towsontown Boulevard, and asked if developers could examine the possibility of Towson University Police Department's jurisdiction being extended to the site. That, she said, would avoid added stress placed on county officers.

Goucher College, as a private institution, has public safety staff but no sworn officers.

Most residents and stakeholders, however, fundamentally disagree with the development altogether. DMS Principal David M. Schlachman, who said he is a Stoneleigh resident, took issue with what he said he felt was neighbors' cynicism about the project.

"I did change the parking here. That was a big step. That was an expensive step," he said, referring to moves to add more spaces for residents beyond building requirements and what a commissioned study suggested. "I don't think there's an issue that's going to change with the groups in the community, because they're against the project."

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Schlachman left the meeting early to attend to a family matter and was unavailable to comment further.

But for starters, what Rebbert said he wants to see is the development hew to normal county setback regulations. As it stands, he said, the building's hundreds of rooms will loom directly over the American Legion parking lot.

"With this PUD, they're throwing [existing zoning rules] out the window," Rebbert said. "They want the dense development over and above."

Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said the group will maintain its opposition to the project.

"The building's gotten bigger twice," he said after the meeting. "I think there will be more bad traffic through the community from that location.

Scott Barhight, a lawyer representing the developers, said the development plan would likely be submitted to the county in the next few months, far short of the one-year deadline required after the final community input meeting under county law.

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