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Councilman to introduce resolution needed for Towson Gateway project to move forward

Towson's representative on the Baltimore County council will introduce a resolution for a contested development at York Road and Bosley Avenue this October.

County Councilman David Marks will introduce a resolution in October to review a controversial project to build a Royal Farms gas station and retail space at the intersection of York Road and Bosley Avenue, in Towson, at the former site of a county fire house.

The resolution will be introduced at either the next county council meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 3, or the one following, scheduled for Oct. 17, said Marks, a Republican who represents Towson.

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"I think it's appropriate to begin the formal review of the project," he added of the resolution, which is opposed by some residents who say the proposed gas station is a poor choice for a location that acts as a kind of gateway to Towson.

"Towson Gateway, the highly visible development property welcoming everyone to Towson, should be more than a suburban commercial strip mall with a huge gas station," the members of Green Towson Alliance said in a Sept. 29 statement opposing the project.

Beth Miller, a member of the Green Towson Alliance, said Friday that she hopes Marks "will show the wisdom and leadership" to reverse his decision to introduce the resolution.

On Sunday, the alliance announced that it would hold a rally opposing the plan for a gas station for Towson Gateway on Monday at 5:30 p.m. in Patriot Plaza, prior to the scheduled 6 p.m. county council meeting.

Mike Ertel, President of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said it was disheartening to hear that Marks plans to introduce the resolution, "even though he knows there is major opposition to the project."

A community input meeting regarding the project, which would be called Towson Gateway, was held five months ago, Marks said, adding that the time has now come to begin a dialogue about how the site will be developed and what protections can be placed on the development of the property. The resolution doesn't approve the development, Marks noted, but merely begins the review process.

The 5.8-acre property is owned and still used by Baltimore County but is under contract to be purchased by Caves Valley Partners, a Towson-based development firm, for $8.3 million, according to county documents. The county council approved that contract in December 2013.

In March, Caves Valley submitted a Planned Unit Development application for the property to Marks. Planned Unit Developments allow developers to build projects that lie outside of the zoning restrictions on a property, so long as the project provides a community benefit and is approved by the county council. The county council member whose district the project would be built in must introduce the PUD to the council, according to Marks.

Developers seeking PUDs must submit an application to begin the process to the council member.

Caves Valley's contract to purchase the property is contingent on the approval of the PUD, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, adding that no money has traded hands yet between the developer and the county.

Caves Valley's plan for the property includes a Royal Farms gas station, a use that would require zoning that allows automotive service. However, the parcel is zoned for a downtown use, which precludes gas stations, making it necessary for Caves Valley to get a PUD approved in order to build the gas station, according to Marks.

Another public input meeting will likely be scheduled for this winter regarding the project, Marks said, adding that the council has the option of halting the review process after that meeting.

Caves Valley has also proposed 22,334 square feet of retail space for the site. In the PUD application submitted to Marks in March 2016, Christopher Mudd, legal counsel for Caves Valley Partners, said that the site currently doesn't "provide a fitting entrance into what is considered to be the 'urban center of Baltimore County.'"

The Towson Gateway project will be a "vibrant commercial development" and serve as a "striking focal point to mark one's arrival in Towson," Mudd added in the letter.

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Many West Towson residents oppose the development; dozens of yards in the community have signs in them asking the council to say "no" to the Royal Farms.

In its Sept. 29 statement, the Green Towson Alliance — an environmental advocacy group dedicated to promoting open space and green space in Towson — said that its members support a "residential or mixed-use project with open, green space," for the parcel.

Marks said Friday that the administration of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, threatened to cut $8 million from the budget for his district — District 5, which covers Towson and Perry Hall — if he failed to introduce the Planned Unit Development resolution required for the Royal Farms project to move forward.

Marks declined to say who specifically in Kamenetz's administration made the alleged threat. He also declined to comment on whether the alleged threat influenced his decision to introduce the resolution.

Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, denied that anyone in the administration threatened to withhold funding from District 5.

Baltimore County has spent $7.6 million of the anticipated revenue from the York Road property sale on a new fire station at Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard, which was dedicated in January. That project was forward-funded by the county, knowing that the money would be recouped by the sale of the York Road property, Mohler said.

"Clearly, if the county does not end up selling the property for $8 million that is $8 million that is no longer available," Mohler said.

"Councilman Marks continues to confuse facts with threats," Mohler added.

Representatives of Caves Valley Partners, and Royal Farms, did not immediately return calls for comment.

This story was updated with information regarding a plan Green Towson Alliance rally on Monday.

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