Towson multiplex scuttled for now Deputy zoning chief will allow theater with only 6 screens


Movie screens won't be coming to Towson Marketplace any time soon, even though a Baltimore County official ruled yesterday to allow a scaled-down multiplex.

Deputy zoning commissioner Timothy M. Kotroco ruled that Florida-based developer James A. Schlesinger of Talisman-Towson could build six movie screens with 1,500 seats instead of the requested 16 screens with 3,500 seats.

But a disappointed Mr. Schlesinger, who has proposed a $20 million renovation of the mall, said movie companies would not build a theater complex that small.

"Right now, the theaters are a dead issue," he said. "I don't see the ability to do movie theaters under this decision."

He said he did not know whether he would appeal the ruling or what his development plans for the 43-acre property might be.

"The question is what to do with the interior space that would have been movie theaters. It could be a [warehouse-style store] to absorb the space. Whatever I do won't be as good as what we were going to do."

In addition to the theaters, his redevelopment plan for the failing, 38-year-old mall at East Joppa Road and Goucher Boulevard calls for upscale restaurants and shops.

Yesterday's ruling brought relief to hundreds of nearby residents, who organized a grass-roots effort, called Citizens Against Marketplace Movies (C.A.M.M.), during the summer to protest the theater complex. Many residents charged that the proposed theater complex would bring crime and traffic to the area.

"This is a wonderful thing for C.A.M.M.," said Mike Sarkin, president of the group. "This is a vindication of our efforts and a response to everyone that kept telling us this was a done deal and you can't do anything about it."

Mr. Kotroco said the area's long-established neighborhoods were an important factor in his decision.

They "have always been solid, productive and stable communities throughout their entire existence," he wrote in the 48-page ruling that also would ban midnight showings and give the developer the right to request more theaters in a year. "It would not be prudent now to permit a use that could jeopardize the one thing we know for sure has proven to be successful during its entire existence, that is, the communities themselves."

That sense of community had gone through rocky times recently as protesters sometimes clashed with other residents. But many are hoping that friction is over.

"If the people who wanted no movies are OK with [the decision], we've passed the critical point," said Wayne Skinner, a Loch Raven Village resident and member of the community's board of directors.

"So long as [the decision] doesn't adversely affect our community, I can't object to it," said Leon Rozankowski, a 39-year resident of nearby Knettishall.

Yesterday's ruling came after four days of packed, emotional hearings last month.

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