Baltimore County began demolishing a vacant office building Friday at the site of a proposed Royal Farms gas station in Towson that has been a flashpoint for controversy in recent years.
Officials are cleaning up and demolishing an office building on the site, at the intersection of York Road and Bosley Avenue, to prepare the parcel for sale to Towson-based developer, Caves Valley Partners, in accordance with a contract approved by the Baltimore County Council in 2013, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said in an emailed statement Monday.
A former fire station and a public works facility are also on the corner, but have not been demolished.
In December 2013, the council approved the sale of the 5.8-acre site to Caves Valley Partners for $8.3 million. That sale has not yet been finalized.
Caves Valley has proposed building a Royal Farms gas station with retail and restaurant space at the site. The project would include a 5,166-square-foot convenience store and fueling station and two one-story retail/restaurant buildings — a 10,814 square-foot building and a 12,420 square-foot building — according to plans submitted by Caves Valley that can be found on Baltimore County's website and are dated March 13, 2017.
In December, the County Council advanced a planned-unit development for the property, which gave Caves Valley the zoning flexibility to add gas pumps to the site, which wouldn't otherwise have been allowed under the site's current zoning, in exchange for community benefits. The $50,000 in community benefits include improving the West Towson Trail, planting trees in West Towson and installing solar-powered speed display signs on Stevenson Road, west of York Road, and on Stevenson Lane, east of York Road.
Some Towson residents have opposed the plan for the Royal Farms, saying it will cause traffic congestion and that pollution from the proposed gas pumps could harm children at the neighboring Immaculate Conception School. The project is also at an entrance to Towson's downtown, and some residents have argued that a gas station is inappropriate for such a gateway location.
Opponents of the project also criticized the council's advancement of the planned-unit development in December, a motion that was sponsored by Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, and who some opponents criticized for the move. Opponents have been fighting the project for more than three years, attending council meetings, holding protests and putting signs in their yards stating that they oppose the Royal Farms.
On Monday, Marks criticized the administration of county executive Kevin Kamenetz for not informing him and the community of the demolition in advance.
According to Marks, several large trees on the county property were cut down Saturday, a move that angered Marks and members of the Green Towson Alliance, an open space and environmental advocacy group.
When the council advanced the planned-unit development in December, language was included in the measure specifically to protect those trees, Marks said Monday. The resolution regarding the project says the county's Design Review Panel, in reviewing the project, should ensure "that existing mature trees that surround the site are protected."
Marks said he is angry that the trees were removed, despite the "clear instruction" from the council. In an email, Kobler said that any new development would require a landscaping plan, "likely including many more trees than were there before."
Beth Miller and Wendy Jacobs, of the Green Towson Alliance, said 30 trees, including seven with a diameter of more than 30 inches, were removed Saturday from the property. The group surveyed and took inventory of trees on the property in September, and visited the site again Sunday to see what was removed.
Marks also questioned why the county was clearing the site, rather than its future owners.
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"Why are taxpayers absorbing the cost of clearing the land?" he said.
On Monday, Kobler did not respond to additional questions about the trees' removal, the timing of the demolition, or why the county was clearing the property rather than the future owners.
Officials of Caves Valley Partners did not return a request for comment.
Although the council voted to advance the project in December, it still needs to be approved through the county's planned unit development process. Marks said a community input meeting will eventually be conducted on the planned unit development, after which the council has 90 days to continue the county's review of the project or kill it. Marks said the community input meeting has not been scheduled.
On March 31, county officials also demolished a house that had recently been donated to the county to be used for the future Radebaugh Neighborhood Park. Kobler said the county was able to save money by combining the two demolitions as one contract.
County officials also did not notify him of the demolition on the Radebaugh property, Marks said. He noted that the removal of the structure was expected, as it is a proposed entrance to the park, but that he still would have liked to have been informed.
Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Jon Meoli contributed to this report.