County Councilman David Marks is calling on Baltimore County to replace the trees it took down last year on the site of a former fire station in Towson.
Under the proposal, drafted by the Green Towson Alliance, a green-space advocacy group, and passed on to the county by Marks, the county would plant 112 trees around downtown Towson.
The trees would replace the 30 that the county removed on the site at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue on April 1, 2017.
“The trees were removed contrary to a County Council resolution,” Marks said. “I think this is a good way of bringing closure.”
Beth Miller, a Green Towson Alliance member, said planting trees around downtown would bring many benefits: They would cool the streets, clean the air and absorb stormwater.
“And then, they just look nice,” Miller said. “They’re just beautiful.”
County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler told the Towson Times last year that the trees at the old Towson Station were torn down to clean up the site in preparation of a sale to developer Caves Valley Partners. The land transferred to Caves Valley on June 28 this year.
Caves Valley is currently moving through the development approval process to build a retail space, most recently holding a community input meeting on June 28. The developer plans to anchor the space with a fast-food restaurant or a drive-through bank.
Taking down the trees, Marks said, violated a December 2016 County Council resolution stipulating that “existing mature trees that surround the site are protected.”
The incident also angered some residents, who protested at the site, calling the incident “Tree-Gate.” Another protest was held this April on the one-year anniversary of the incident.
Green Towson Alliance members Miller and Wendy Jacobs said in addition to violating the resolution, tearing down the trees violated a mandate in 2016 Downtown Towson District Overlay legislation. According to that rule, trees with a diameter of 10 inches at breast height, a standard method of measuring trees, must be retained unless they interfere with construction. If a tree is removed, the legislation says, multiple trees with diameters adding up to the diameter of the tree that was removed should be planted on-site or elsewhere in the downtown district.
Green Towson Alliance surveyed the site’s 30 trees in 2016 and measured 20 trees with diameters of more than 10 inches. Those 20 trees’ diameters added up to a total of 454 inches, the amount that the overlay legislation requires be replaced in the district.
The group estimated that if saplings with 2.5-inch diameters were planted, it would take 182 trees to make up for the trees lost.
Miller said the group counted about 70 trees on Caves Valley’s concept plan, which was presented at the June 28 meeting. At that meeting, however, project engineer Steve Warfield and Venable LLC lawyer David Karceski clarified that the landscaping on that slide was just illustrative, not final, because it was not required as part of the concept plan stage of the development process.
Using that estimation, Miller said, Green Towson Alliance found that 112 trees would need to be planted to meet the obligation.
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Miller said that ideally, Caves Valley would pay a fee-in-lieu to the county for tree planting, because the county said the trees were removed on the developer’s behalf. But Marks said that because the county, not the developer, removed the trees, the county likely would have to foot the bill from the general fund.
“We are proceeding through the development review and approval process, which requires that our plan comply with applicable laws and regulations,” Caves Valley lawyer Christopher Mudd, of Venable LLC, wrote in an email. “We intend to do so.”
Green Towson Alliance roughly estimated that if each tree cost $500, the total cost would be $56,000. Miller clarified, however, that costs could vary based on the contractor and the location of trees being installed.
Kobler said that the county administration considers the tree-planting proposal as part of the development process for Towson Station, and that “all of these issues will be addressed as part of that process.”
“The project still needs to go before the Design Review Panel and have its development plan reviewed by County agencies before the Administrative Law judge reviews the entire project,” Kobler wrote in an email.
Miller said she plans on stepping back and letting officials and the developer decide who is responsible for planting the trees, but that “someone should be.”
“Whether it comes from the developer or the county, we’re going to let them figure that out,” Miller said. “We just hope that there’s some kind of resolution that is fair to everyone.”