Panel approves Towson complex


A project that would bring new student dormitories, parking, and restaurant and retail space to downtown Towson was granted preliminary but expedited approval from Baltimore County officials yesterday.

The plans were submitted by Heritage Properties in Towson and the Cordish Co. in Baltimore. The project would be steps away from Towson Circle, also a Heritage-Cordish collaboration, which includes Barnes & Noble, Trader Joe's and Pier One Imports.

It would have a 600-bed dormitory for Towson University students, 8,000 square feet of retail space, a 56,000- square-foot restaurant and a 725-space parking garage, according to a site plan submitted this month.

"It creates a destination location for Towson," said County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat whose district includes the area. He said the project is designed "to bring the vitality of Towson University further north into the Towson business district."

The project, known as Towson Circle III and worth tens of millions of dollars, would be built on the area bounded by East Joppa Road to the north, East Pennsylvania Avenue to the south, Virginia Avenue to the east and Delaware Avenue to the west.

Rob Hoffman, a Towson lawyer representing the developers, said he expects construction to be under way by the middle of next year. The garage would be built first, followed by the dorm. Gardina said he expected the project would be complete in 2007.

Gardina said the large restaurant will likely be Dave & Buster's, a Dallas-based chain that serves steaks, seafood and pasta alongside entertainment such as billiards, shuffleboard and video games. However, Don Rascoe, chairman of the Baltimore County Development Review Committee, and Hoffman said discussions with Dave & Buster's are tentative.

A Dave & Buster's spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether a new franchise is planned for Towson.

Yesterday, the Development Review Committee - which includes representatives from the departments of environmental protection, planning, recreation and parks, permits and development management, and zoning - gave the project the go-ahead. Approval from the committee can expedite a project by up to a year.

The project was allowed to go before the committee because it is considered "an amendment" to the existing Towson Town Center and Towson Circle projects.

Donna Spicer, executive director of the Loch Raven Community Council, said she supports the project, but she thinks projects of this magnitude should not be allowed to go through the Development Review Committee because it does not afford enough opportunities for public input.

"I support the proposal," she said. "The process stinks for community input."

Wallace S. North Jr., acting spokesman for the Towson Metropolitan Area Residents, submitted a letter to committee members yesterday with two complaints about the project.

First, he said, residents were expecting housing for Towson University faculty and graduate students - not dormitories for undergraduates.

"This change is a major problem that could devalue our property and downgrade Towson," he wrote.

Under the plan, Shealy Avenue would be closed between Delaware and Virginia avenues. North's letter says Shealy Avenue "is now the major pedestrian access to Towson," and a new pedestrian corridor will be necessary.

In an e-mail to The Sun yesterday, David S. Iannucci, executive director of the county economic development department, wrote: "The county is working through a number of complex issues with the development team so we can bring a quality development plan to the community for input."

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