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Kevin King, an associate principal at the architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross, talks to residents about Towson University's master plan update process at a community input meeting Monday.
Kevin King, an associate principal at the architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross, talks to residents about Towson University's master plan update process at a community input meeting Monday. (Staff photo by Larry Perl)

Towson University tries to update its master plan every five years, and the last time it did so was in 2009.

University officials say it's time to update the master plan again and are asking the public for their input on everything from student housing to parking.

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Toward that end, the university held a Campus Master Plan Update Process Overview and Input Session in the university fieldhouse Monday evening — the second such meeting since the planning process started last year — and have scheduled a third meeting for Friday.

"You never stand still," Kevin King, an architect who is leading the planning process, told a small but engaged audience.

King, an associate principal of the architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross, which was hired by Towson University to do the master plan, and Kris Phillips, TU's director of facilities planning, outlined for the 17 people in attendance ambitious ideas for the university's future, from growing the student body to 25,000 by the year 2024 and expanding the student union to starting a small business incubator on campus and addressing what King said is "a significant amount of deferred maintenance."

They said they want to review everything from space utilization to housing and parking needs.

But they also took their cue from the mostly area residents at the meeting. And many of those neighbors are hoping for a future in which the university focuses more on green and open space, better distribution of housing for off-campus students, fewer traffic problems, and less of what West Towson resident Wendy Jacobs called "university creep" in Towson's downtown core.

Phillips and King stressed the need for neighborhood partnerships, and Phillips said, "This is your time. We want you to tell us what you think. We are here to listen."

They got an earful from semi-retired architect Ron Goetz, a 12-year resident of Rodgers Forge, who said, "It's not partnerships. It's an invasion into the community. I'm really concerned about 25,000 kids," because of potential problems integrating them into the community.

"Looking for ways to minimize that intrusion is what we're here to do," said King, who was also involved in updating TU's master plan in 2003 and 2009.

Phillips said the university plans to "cap" student enrollment at 25,000 "heads" for the foreseeable future. That would include full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students, he said. But he added that the university might have to turn away more applicants for enrollment.

"We're becoming much more selective" in the admission process, Phillips said.

Jacobs, who heads the greening committee of the West Towson Neighborhood Association, said she understands the need for the university to use its land "more aggressively" as the student population, currently around 22,000, continues to grow. But she said she wants to see more open space and parks, such as a splash park, a trail with trees connecting the campus and community, and a campus quadrangle for adults, where they could sit while on campus and play outdoor games like bocce.

Jacobs also worried that with plans for student housing in developments like 101 York and Towson Row, "Downtown Towson in some ways is starting to have university creep."

"There's a sense that the downtown core is somewhat up for grabs," Jacobs said. She said she would like to see the downtown be "a nice place, rather than something we fight over for the next 15 years."

Garry Cutting advocated better planning of facilities like a parking garage near his home of 25 years in West Towson. Cutting, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, said he doesn't like the fact that many trees were taken down when the garage was built — and that the garage lights shine into the neighborhood at night.

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"That thing stands out like a spaceship that just landed," Cutting said.

Asked specifically by a member of the audience whether the university is considering building more garages, King said, "We're assessing the need for more parking on campus as part of the study."

Suzanne Leber, a 28-year resident of Wiltondale, pushed university officials to pay more attention to its neighbors.

"I don't think the principle should be, the heck with the neighborhoods," Leber said.

"We are serious about partnering with our neighbors," King said.

King, who also lives in Wiltondale, had complaints of his own to share, especially abut walking to the university or downtown on "measly, 4-foot-wide, sad sidewalks."

Updates on the plan and the residents' comments will be posted online at the university's website, http://www.towson.edu, and a draft plan will be posted in June, Phillips said.

The plan will be further developed over the summer, with input and feedback from focus groups, and a recommended plan will be presented to the Maryland Board of Regents in September, Phillips said. He said the university hopes to post the final plan online in October.

Cutting had some advice for the planners.

"It's not always bigger is better," he said.

The TU Campus Master Plan meeting Friday starts at 6 p.m., in the Minnegan Room at the Unitas Stadium Fieldhouse off Osler Drive.

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