Officials tout pending Towson Row project even as open space issues remain

Massive Towson Row mixed-use project moves forward.

Business and government leaders gathered Friday at the site of the $350 million Towson Row development, promoting the progress of a project officials have called "transformational" for downtown Towson.

The mixed-use Towson Row project being developed by Caves Valley Partners will include high-rise towers for offices, apartments and student housing. It also will include a hotel, restaurants, retail shops and a Whole Foods grocery store at the site near the corner of York Road and Towsontown Boulevard.

When it's completed in about three years, "Towson Row will be alive every minute of every day," said Arthur Adler, a partner in Towson-based Caves Valley.

Contractors for Caves Valley have spent several months tearing down old buildings on the roughly 5-acre site, but Friday's gathering was dubbed a "site debut."

The company previously renovated the Towson City Center office building about a half-mile to the north. While working on that project, Adler said, it became clear that Towson needed more development and redevelopment to transform the county seat into "a vibrant city."

In recent years, Towson has seen the opening of Towson Square on East Joppa Road with a movie theater and restaurants, a remodeling of Towson Commons on York Road, and several apartment projects. Proposals also have been made for the Towson Circle building to be renovated to include an apartment tower and hotel, and for several other apartment and student housing developments.

Towson's development boom has not been embraced by everyone. Some residents have worried government is pushing for development that will worsen traffic and promote an urban feel without including green space for balance.

The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and the West Towson Neighborhood Association have appealed Towson Row's approval to the Board of Appeals. A hearing is scheduled for November.

"We're not looking to hijack the project and hold them up," said Michael Ertel, president of the Greater Towson group. Instead, he said, residents hope the appeal can help resolve concerns over issues related to open space, traffic and signs.

The groups' objections include the $55,000 fee that Caves Valley is paying to the county — a fee that's levied because Towson Row won't include the required amount of open space. The associations want the fee to be higher — they note that open-space waiver fees in downtown Towson are lower than in other parts of the county.

Caves Valley also is making a $200,000 donation to help pay for artificial turf fields at Towson High School and Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

"Our hope is that we can negotiate something," Ertel said. "This is not what neighborhoods want to be doing. They don't want to be suing developers and appealing."

The Baltimore County Council is scheduled to vote Monday on a proposal that would raise the fees for future projects in downtown Towson, including Towson Row.

Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, is sponsoring the open-space fees bill. Despite the fee issue, Marks praised Towson Row as a "smart growth" project in an already developed area.

"This is going to be a great project when it's finished," said Marks.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat who has supported Towson Row, said if the county wants to avoid increases to property taxes and income taxes, the tax base must grow with projects such as Towson Row.

"People want to live in downtown Towson. They want to shop in downtown Towson. They want to enjoy the amenities of downtown Towson," Kamenetz said.

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