From protests over tree removal to accusations of developer handouts, development in Towson draws debate like a magnet.
One thing that’s not up for debate: Towson’s skyline is growing.
Towson Square brought a Cinemark movie theater and restaurants in 2014. The same year, shopping center Towson Commons sought a facelift by bringing in gym LA Fitness. A new fire station was dedicated in 2016. Housing complexes sprang up one after another: Flats at 703; Promenade; Palisades; Towson Green; Winthrop.
The bulldozers have not rolled out yet. Major projects are underway in Towson’s core, and the coming years are likely to be a series of ribbon-cutting ceremonies. When the buildings currently under construction are complete, downtown Towson will have grown by more than 800 residential units and thousands of square feet of retail space.
Don’t expect to stop dodging orange cones any time soon, however – major construction projects including Towson Row are likely to stretch on into at least 2020.
Location: 5-acre parcel bounded by York Road, Towsontown Boulevard, Washington Avenue and Chesapeake Avenue
Towson Row, a $350 million, 5-acre mixed-use development with 1.2 million square feet of developed space planned, promised big changes for Towson when it was announced in 2013. Plans include a hotel, apartments, a student housing complex, office and retail space. The project as planned would be larger in its square footage than the Towson Town Center mall.
Community members diverged on Towson Row. Some, like Towson Chamber of Commerce President Tim Bojanowski, spoke in public meetings calling the project Towson’s “greatest opportunity in generations.” Others argued it was too dense for the traditionally suburban area and did not have enough open space.
But after demolition in 2015, excavators for developer Caves Valley Partners hit solid rock as they were excavating for an underground parking garage, and the project languished. Caves Valley officials said the rock would make the underground garage too costly to build. The site remained an empty construction zone for years.
Since then, developer Greenberg Gibbons signed onto the project, and the Baltimore County Council voted in December 2017 to give the developers a $43 million aid package to spur the project along. That aid package drew heated debate and prompted accusations of “developer welfare.” The narrow council vote was split along party lines, with four Democrats voting yes while three Republicans opposed it.
The project is now redesigned without the underground garage. It will move forward in the development approval process with a Design Review Panel hearing on the hotel component of the project on Sept. 12.
In June, the developers held a long-awaited construction kickoff celebration. The company announced that companies Shamin Hotels and Gilbane Development Co. will develop the hotel and student housing complex respectively.
Eric Walter, an executive vice president at Greenberg Gibbons, said in an email that the hotel and student housing components are expected to be complete by the summer or fall of 2020. Those buildings will include retail space.
A schedule for the apartments, which will be “incorporated into the larger retail component,” has not yet been announced, Walter said. He said no retailers have been announced at this time.
“Once the anchor retail component is confirmed we will provide an update,” Walter said.
Location: 5.8 acre parcel at 800 York Road
The former site of the Baltimore County’s Fire Station No. 1 in Towson at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue has drawn backlash since the county decided to sell the land to developer Caves Valley Partners, which put forth plans to build retail space.
Environmentalists and neighbors had concerns about the Caves Valley’s original plan to build a Royal Farms store and gas station on the 5.8-acre property, which they said would increase noise and pollution. Dissenters also raised concerns that pollution from the proposed gas pumps could harm children at the neighboring Immaculate Conception School.
The fervor increased when the county had dozens of trees removed in April 2017, despite a County Council resolution protecting the trees. Protesters called the incident “Treegate."
After negotiating with community groups, Caves Valley is now moving forward on a plan that does not include a gas station, hosting a public input meeting on June 28. At that hearing, community members expressed concerns about pedestrian safety and called the plan “average.”
“I think all of us are fine with some kind of inspired commerce,” Towson resident Mark Lee said at the input meeting. “This is just so underwhelming to us.”
The land transferred ownership to Caves Valley for $6.9 million on June 28. The old fire station has been demolished.
The developer is currently making its way through the county’s development approval process. Caves Valley lawyer Christopher Mudd, of Venable LLC, did not respond when asked when the developer expects to break ground.
A brochure by H&R Retail, the retail broker for the site, says that the development will open in the fall of 2019. Mudd did not respond confirming whether that date is correct.
The company plans to anchor the shopping center with either a drive-through restaurant or a drive-through bank.
The H&R brochure lists four tenants that have already leased space: Men’s Wearhouse, MOD Pizza, Nail Trix and Mission BBQ.
1 E. Joppa Road
Developers Retail Properties of America Inc. and AvalonBay broke ground on Circle East, a $30 million redevelopment of the former Towson Circle property, in November 2017. Until 2016, the building held to a Barnes & Noble, a Pier1 Imports and a Trader Joe’s.
The project at East Joppa and York roads, just off the Towson traffic circle, is set to include a 390-unit apartment building and 240,000 square feet of retail space. No retailers have been announced for the building yet.
The companies renamed the mixed-use shopping center Circle East in October 2017.
According to the website for Circle East, the sidewalk and right lane on Joppa Road, which are currently closed for facade improvements, will reopen in October. Retail and restaurant tenants are then scheduled to open their doors on Joppa Road this winter, the website says.
AvalonBay, the residential part of the property, is the second phase of construction, according to the website. Retail in that building is slated to open in the winter of 2019. David Bookhout, AvalonBay’s senior development director, said the company expects to start leasing luxury apartments in the first quarter of 2020.
“It’s a luxury living, full-amenities apartment community,” Bookhout said. The apartments will feature courtyards, a pool, a dog run and a “full suite of indoor amenities,” he said.
Pricing for the 371 units has not yet been announced, but Bookhout said they will be priced on the upper end of Towson’s market.
“I think that as Towson urbanizes, there will be a wide variety of folks who are interested in these apartments,” Bookhout said. “I think it’s going to be a great alternative to downtown Baltimore, to get the city vibe and feel in a walkable environment, but a bit smaller of a community than a big city like downtown Baltimore.”
200 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
A 34-home townhouse development in East Towson near Towson’s core, Towson Mews, broke ground in spring 2016.
The development originally drew scrutiny at public meetings from residents of the historically black East Towson neighborhood, who complained it was too dense. In order to make way for the project, a historic log cabin known as the Parker House was moved about a block away, from Jefferson Avenue to nearby Fairmount Avenue.
As of this summer, about half the development has been built out.
“Things have been moving along,” said Ben Perovich, sales manager for developer Evergreene Homes, adding later that “things have been selling well lately.”
When Towson Mews broke ground in 2016, Adelaide Bentley, of the North East Towson Improvement Association, said she was disappointed that none of the townhouses were affordable housing units, saying the buildings were “too expensive.” The developer countered then that the homes were priced to the market.
Nearby homes currently listed on Zillow are priced in the range of $250,000 to $550,000. The median home value across Towson is $348,200 according to the website.
The Baltimore County Revitalization Tax Credit, which is available because Towson Mews is in a revitalization district, would also offset the cost of a home, Perovich said. An Evergreene Homes brochure estimates that a homeowner with a $400,000 house could save about $300 a month in property taxes.
Perovich expects construction to be complete in about a year. Out of 34 homes, which start at $400,000, 16 have already been sold, Perovich said in August. Nine residents have moved in, he said, and four will be moving in in about two weeks.