Towson residents were out in force Monday evening at two separate meetings to voice their opinions on a pair of redevelopment proposals that have sparked controversy and protest in recent months — a proposed Royal Farms gas station at the corner of Bosley Avenue and York Road and, two miles south, a proposed Starbucks coffee shop at York Road and Regester Avenue.
The Starbucks coffee shop, which is proposed to replace a former bank and office building, would have an entrance on York Road and an exit onto Regester. The sticking point for the community is a proposed drive-through for the location, which they said would cause increased traffic and threaten pedestrian safety, particularly that of students who pass the area on their way to class at nearby Dumbarton Middle School.
Baltimore County officials approved the project in April 2016, according to spokeswoman Lauren Watley, though officials have not yet received a building permit application for the address associated with the project.
The Royal Farms project has been contested by the community since it was proposed three years ago. Baltimore County is selling a 5.8-acre property at the corner of York and Bosley — which has housed a fire station and a public works facility — to developer Caves Valley Partners, which has proposed a retail development including a gas station for the property. Some residents have objected to the proposal, saying a gas station would increase traffic problems at the intersection, and potentially cause pollution.
Before that project advances, the Baltimore County Council must pass a resolution allowing it to move forward as a planned unit development, a mechanism that allows a project to be built outside of zoning regulations, as long as it provides a community benefit. The land isn't zoned to have a gas station on it, and therefore the project needs special action from the council. That resolution, which was introduced in October by Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, will be discussed during a council work session scheduled for this afternoon, at which the public can give testimony.
That meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. on the second floor of the Historic Courthouse, at 400 Washington Avenue, in Towson.
The 7 p.m. meeting centered on the proposed Royal Farms, which was hosted by Towson state representatives Sen. Jim Brochin and Del. Steve Lafferty, and the environmental advocacy group, the Green Towson Alliance, at Towson University, was standing room only and attended by more than 100 people.
Attendees heard from traffic, planning and legal experts invited by the organizers, as well as the elected officials and Beth Miller, a member of the Green Towson Alliance, who outlined objections to the project that included potential traffic congestion, pollution, and the threat of too much competition for surrounding gas stations. Miller is concerned that the proposed gas station doesn't fit into the idea, supported by her group, of a "walkable Towson," she said.
Karen Kahl, of neighboring West Towson, a civil engineer, said she has two young children who attend Immaculate Conception School, which is directly south of the proposed gas station. She is concerned about potential pollution from the station harming her children.
"I don't understand how the government is allowed to place a gas station next to a school," she said.
Jim Risser, of West Towson, said a gas station could draw crime and drug activity to the area, adding that he believes developing the project as proposed would amount to placing a drug dealership between Immaculate Conception, West Towson, and the Baltimore County Corrections facility, which is near the parcel.
Earlier in the evening, at 6:15 p.m., Marks hosted a separate meeting at the Idlewylde Community Hall regarding the proposed Starbucks, which was attended by about 50 people.
Residents who live near the corner said they were blindsided by the proposal, and frustrated that a traffic study wasn't completed before county officials approved the project in April. Some residents have said they would be happy to have the Starbucks — but without the drive-through and what they believe would be its potential for creating a pedestrian hazard.
"This is going to be a disaster," said Amy Miller, who lives directly behind the parcel. "They're going to have someone hurt."
On Friday, about 40 residents of Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh and Anneslie rallied, held up signs and spoke with passing drivers at the location of the proposed Starbucks to share their objection to the drive-through. Rodgers Forge Community Association Board of Governors President Kris Henry said the association has commissioned a traffic study to be completed at a cost of $4,500. The Anneslie Community Association and the Stoneleigh Community Association chipped in a combined $2,000, Henry said, while Rodgers Forge is contributing $2,500. That study will be conducted this week, Henry said Friday, declining to say what private engineering firm would complete the work.
Marks said he is considering putting in legislation before the county council's Dec. 19 meeting that would require an applicant, prior to the issuance of an occupancy and use permit, to submit a traffic study for proposed businesses that would have a drive-through. Recommendations based on that study would be the responsibility of the Department of Public Works and the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee.
Marks said is he also considering legislation that would turn south Towson into a special district in which new construction would be subject to extra scrutiny by evaluation of the Baltimore County Design Review Panel, a board of nine architectural and engineering experts appointed by the County Executive with the goal of encouraging design excellence in projects in designated areas.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pam Wood contributed to this report.