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Stalled Towson Row project clears a hurdle

A Baltimore County review committee has approved an initial request by a pair of developers to scale down the original plan for the stalled Towson Row project in downtown Towson, a mixed-use development that has broken ground but has been sitting idle since December.

However, those revisions — which include building a larger hotel and scraping a planned underground parking garage — must now be incorporated into a final overall plan for the project that county officials must approve before construction can continue, Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

The county's Development Review Committee on June 20 approved a request from Towson-based Caves Valley Partners and Owings Mill-based Greenberg Gibbons to redesign the project to make it slightly smaller than the development's original plan, Kobler said. The committee is responsible for reviewing and approving development in the county.

Towson Row, which is being built at the corner of York Road and Towsontown Boulevard, originally was planned to feature more than 1.2 million square feet of retail, office and hotel space, along with luxury and student housing, and an underground parking garage anchored by a Whole Foods grocery.

Though excavation started in 2015, the project stalled under Caves Valley in December after the developer discovered that solid rock lay beneath the surface of an area planned for the underground garage.

Caves Valley officials said that the presence of the rock would make building the garage too costly and that they therefore could not continue with the project as planned. In May, Caves Valley officials announced they were joining forces with Greenberg Gibbons to redesign the project.

The revised plan the committee approved proposes a larger, 220-room hotel, a smaller, 250-unit apartment building, and 300 high-rise student housing units, said Greenberg Gibbons executive vice president Eric Walter.

It deletes the underground parking structure and moves the office space to a standalone structure at the northeast corner of Susquehanna and Washington Avenues, instead of above the garage.

"All the changes reflect economics that make the project more economically feasible and marketable," Walter said. "Part of it has to do with the underground parking garage, but it's also that any underground parking garage is very expensive."

Towson University is set to convert the university-owned Marriott Conference Hotel, in Towson, into student housing in 2018. Increasing the number of hotel rooms at Towson Row would serve travelers who would have used the 198-room hotel, Walter said.

"At 220 [rooms], we felt we were essentially replacing the demand that was already in the market," Walter said.

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, has expressed frustration with the project's delays. In May, he introduced a bill to reopen a Washington Avenue sidewalk closed to pedestrian traffic for the stalled construction. Marks pulled the bill after developers agreed to reopen the sidewalk to pedestrians later that month.

"Towson Row promises to be a transformational project," Marks said in an email June 23. "Unfortunately, this initiative stalled under the leadership of Caves Valley Partners. Buildings were hastily demolished, only to have the excavation delayed for months on end."

The addition of Greenberg Gibbons to the project should get the project finished in a "timely manner," Marks said.

Under the partnership, Greenberg Gibbons will spearhead the retail, residential, student housing and hotel components of the development, while Caves Valley will oversee the office component.

Walter said the developers' next step will be to submit engineering plans and elevation specifications to the county for approval, after which they can seek permits to start construction.

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