New developer interested in buying proposed Royal Farms site in Towson

The developer behind Silo Point, a $180 million waterfront condominium development in Baltimore City, is interested in buying a county-owned property at York Road and Bosley Avenue in Towson, according to a letter to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks.

Turner Development Group's president, Patrick Turner, offered to purchase the former Baltimore County fire station property for $8.3 million plus $200,000 to cover county legal expenses following an unsolicited phone conversation, Marks said.

Towson-based Caves Valley Partners has a contract with Baltimore County to buy the site for $8.3 million and redevelop the roughly 6-acre property as a 24-hour Royal Farms gas station and two buildings of commercial retail, being branded as Towson Station.

The Royal Farms proposal has drawn community opposition throughout the development approval process, most recently at a community input meeting that drew more than 200 people against the project.

Nearby residents say the intersection is a "gateway" to downtown Towson, that it does not need another gas station and that they are worried about pollution, noise and traffic.

Marks said he has not seen a development plan from Turner but that he was promised in a phone conversation July 3 with Turner there would not be a gas station included.

Royal Farms is the only confirmed tenant at Towson Station thus far, and Caves Valley officials have said its inclusion is necessary to move the project forward.

"I agree with the community that it is an inappropriate use of the site to locate a gas station there ... ," Turner said in his July 5 letter to Marks. "As a Maryland developer of many large mixed-use sites, I am willing to purchase the site from the County for the same $8.3 million plus an additional $200,000 for any legal expenses incurred by the County."

In addition to matching the offer by Caves Valley Partners, the Baltimore-based developer offered a 60-day settlement and the development of a plan "that will meet community approval."

Turner Development Group specializes in creating "original, viable reuses for the buildings and neighborhoods that give every city its unique character," according to its website.

Silo Point, in Baltimore's Locust Point neighborhood, is a mixed-use residential complex at the site of a former 1923 grain elevator.

Turner could not be reached for comment.

An attorney for Caves Valley Partners said Wednesday the company would fight any efforts to cancel its contract.

"Caves Valley Partners has a binding contract in place to purchase the land from Baltimore County," said Christopher Mudd, an attorney who represents Caves Valley. "The company has been working in good faith for several years to perform its obligations under the contract and will strongly oppose any effort by anyone to interfere or undermine the contract."

In December 2013, the council approved the sale of the 5.8-acre site to Caves Valley Partners for $8.3 million. The sale has not been completed and Marks said the sale won't move forward without a planned unit development, or PUD, designation.

The redevelopment proposal of the county-owned land requires a PUD to allow Caves Valley to build gas pumps on the parcel, which are not allowed under current zoning. The County Council approved the PUD in December, under the advice of Marks, a Republican who represents Towson.

The regulatory process is approved if a project will achieve substantially higher-quality development or provide a public benefit that would not otherwise be obtained through existing uses of the land, according to the county website.

In exchange, Caves Valley agreed to pay $50,000 for improvements to the West Towson Trail, to plant trees in West Towson and to install solar-powered speed display signs on Stevenson Road, west of York Road, and on Stevenson Lane, east of York Road.

However, Marks announced in late June that he was withdrawing support for the PUD, citing community opposition and the potential for litigation on behalf of opposing community association groups if the county continued to move forward.

The letter from Turner, Marks said, proves that there is additional interest in the property if the County Council decided to stop the review of Caves Valley's proposal, essentially killing the project.

Council members traditionally defer to the council member who introduced the PUD under what is known as councilmanic courtesy.

Though all new developments in Baltimore County must go through the county's development review process, the land would be open for sale to other developers without a PUD, Marks said.

"If the council halts review, I believe we could revisit the property and get it sold much faster than subjecting the county to years of litigation," Marks said.

The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations has been in an ongoing legal dispute with the developers of 101 York, a student housing project proposed for York Road, just north of Towson University's campus.

The umbrella group of community associations appealed the county's 2015 decision to move the project forward to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland after years of local discussion. The state court heard arguments June 8 but has yet to issue a decision.

"The Royal Farms project could end up like that," GTCCA member and past president Paul Hartman said. "I know the West Towson community is opposed, Towson Park—I'm not sure if they'd be willing to pursue legal action—and of course, the GTCCA would discuss the action if we felt that was the only way."

Some worry that pulling the PUD and ending discussion on the project could anger the business community.

"We feel this leaves a bad taste in the business community's mouth," Greater Towson Committee Executive Director Katie Pinheiro said after reading about the new developer's interest online. "Two hundred community members don't like a development so a contract that has been signed for the last two-and-a-half years is now null and void? What message is that sending? It's a concerning move."

The committee is a nonprofit made up of volunteer business professionals that promotes investment in Towson through development and revitalization, according to its website.

The group has and continues to support Caves Valley's development of the property, Pinheiro said, adding that the issue was no longer Towson-specific and could affect developers countywide.

"We don't know anything about Patrick Turner other than what was in the letter or how he got involved, but we believe that the contract with Caves Valley should be honored," Pinheiro said. "It would be very disturbing if this precedent was to be set that you can have a contract, but if some people don't like it someone else can swoop in and take it from you."

Marks said he released the letter this week, ahead of next week's discussion session, to show the public that there would be interest from other developers in purchasing the property.

The County Council will discuss withdrawing the PUD at its Aug. 1 work session and vote on the matter on Aug. 7, Marks said.

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