The Baltimore County Council passed a bill Monday to strip downtown Towson's current overlay zoning and replace it with a new district that will include a "more intensive design review process" to regulate all levels of development and redevelopment, according to a summary of the bill.
The bill is the culmination of 18 months of work, said its author, Councilman David Marks, who thanked the county's planning department and planning board in the effort. Marks withdrew the bill twice, and it passed on its third introduction.
The bill does away with a "fragmented and often contradictory" overlay zoning in Towson and replaces those zones with a new downtown Towson designation. The exact borders of the new zone will be finalized through the county's quadrennial comprehensive zoning map process, Marks said, but will include the highest-density area of Towson.
The bill requires development in downtown Towson to use "high quality building materials," enable "signature statuesque building at strategic locations," and integrate "urban design components into the public realm," according to its summary.
Architecture requirements are a vital part of the bill, Marks said.
"We wanted to make sure that buildings that will be standing for six decades are going to be pleasing to the eye," he said after the council's vote.
While the rules for downtown Towson will change, other neighborhoods in Towson will continue to use standards outlined in the 1992 Towson Community Plan.
There are no minimum parking requirements for development or redevelopment under the new zoning, however applicants must identify the parking needs associated with a development in their plan, as well as a method for supplying the parking.
All development and redevelopment in the new district will be subject to the review of the county's Design Review Panel. The bill also lays out a list of design guidelines, which includes such requirements as "green" building, signage, parking, open space and architecture.
The Design Review Panel will require developments to include open space "to the greatest extent possible," the bill states. adding that open space should be open to the public, designed for all ages, and be located on the site.
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Marks said the bill also includes stricter lighting standards to prevent light pollution and spill-over into other neighborhoods.
Stormwater management must be incorporated into all development projects to reduce runoff, improve water quality and increase groundwater recharge. Preservation of existing trees is strongly encouraged in the bill.
Greater Towson Committee Executive Director Katie Pinheiro said in an email that even though she had not fully reviewed amendments made to the bill, her organization was pleased that it passed.
"Two keys elements of Towson's success will be improving its walkability and connectivity, which was highlighted in the [bill] as well as in the Master Plan 2020," she said in an email. "Towson's development community will continue to work with the County Council and County Executive to make Towson the most successful it can be with the best possible developments for all to enjoy."