After 4 years, Towson building proposal is approved


Finally, Robert E. Latshaw Jr. prevailed.

Four years after entering the maze of Baltimore County's development review process, he received a waiver allowing him to build a two-story office building near the northwest corner of York Road and Stevenson Lane in Towson.

For Mr. Latshaw, general partner of York Stevenson Limited Partnership, the decision exempts his property from a construction ban imposed through the county's Basic Services Law. The law prohibits development in any area immediately surrounding a highly congested intersection.

Stephen E. Weber, assistant traffic engineer for the Bureau of Traffic Engineering, said he knows of only one other instance where a waiver was given under similar circumstances.

Long before Mr. Latshaw ever asked for a waiver, he negotiated agreements with two community organizations initially opposed to his plans and made some major changes. Then, 2 1/2 years ago, the County Review Group, the county's former development review panel, granted its approval.

But just as he was getting that bit of good news, the county changed the traffic designation for the York Road-Burke Avenue intersection. That intersection, about a mile north of Mr. Latshaw's property, is one of the county's busiest, and was now rated one of the county's worst.

The decision meant Mr. Latshaw couldn't get the necessary building permits. He put his plan on hold as the construction ban went into effect.

He went to local legislators to see if they could help get his project

moving again. Nothing happened.

In August, he filed his waiver request with the zoning commissioner's office. Traffic engineers had recommended upgrading the York Road-Burke Avenue rating. Their surveys suggested the intersection's traffic congestion had eased.

Two months later, the county Planning Board rejected the traffic engineer's recommendation. A majority of the board's members were skeptical of the surveys and concerned that new development would turn the intersection back into one of the county's worst.

Mr. Latshaw used those same traffic survey figures when he argued for the waiver. In his written opinion, Deputy Zoning Commissioner Timothy M. Kotroco said he wasn't authorized to determine the level of congestion at the intersection. He simply ruled that Mr. Latshaw's office building would not adversely affect the traffic patterns.

"I'm disappointed that the deputy zoning commissioner has seen fit to let this construction go forward," said Stephen W. Lafferty, a planning board member from the Towson area. Mr. Lafferty led the fight to reject the traffic engineer's recommendation.

Even though Mr. Latshaw has won the right to proceed with his development, he is still trying to get the council to adopt the traffic engineer's recommendation. He has sent council members letters saying that ignoring the studies and the recommendation would send a message that the county is anti-growth.

Next Monday, the council is scheduled to vote on amendments to the Basic Services Map, which includes the traffic designation for the York Road-Burke Avenue intersection.

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