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Development and dialogue in downtown Towson

Towson Town Center renovations include improvements to parking and directional signage. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)

Revitalization in Towson was one of my priorities — and every other local candidate’s — when I ran for the Baltimore County Council in 2010. A few years earlier, in 2006, Baltimore County had engaged a planning team to redesign downtown Towson, leading to the release of a “Walkable Towson Plan” that included policy recommendations and ideas for capital improvement. Left unaddressed, however, was the bigger question about redevelopment and what would it take to bring businesses and residents into the core of Towson.

I’m proud to say no one is asking that question anymore.

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The past 10 years have produced an unprecedented building boom in downtown Towson. There are nine cranes along Towson's skyline right now, from the Life Sciences Building at Towson University to the Circle East project along Joppa Road.

Timing was key. Three things occurred at about the same time to jumpstart an area that was rotting with derelict buildings.

First, the relationship between Towson University, Goucher College and their neighbors has greatly improved. There are monthly meetings between residents and university officials, and legislation passed by the County Council has penalized landlords who do not demand good behavior from tenants. Dormitories are being built at 101 York and Towson Row to house students closer to where they will learn.

Higher education is among the most resilient sectors of our local economy, which means the concentration in downtown Towson will insulate the area from future recessions.

The second factor was a focus on residential construction. Great communities do not empty out at night and on the weekends. Hundreds of residential units will be built over the next three years, and events organized by the Towson Chamber of Commerce will make residents feel at home.

Finally, there was a unified push by entrepreneurs and local officials to make redevelopment work. Developers realized that the amount of land within Baltimore County's Urban-Rural Demarcation Line was being exhausted, and it made sense to give downtown Towson a second look. But there was also a real focus from county executive, County Council and Towson's state legislators.

I profoundly disagreed with then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on some issues, but he made redevelopment a theme of his administration and followed up with capital projects, such as funding for two new parks and school improvements. His successor, Don Mohler, jumpstarted the resurfacing of all of Towson's major corridors, which is being finished this summer.

New County Executive John Olszewski Jr. also has offered a promising start, with funding to look at a Towson Circulator that could improve mobility by as early as 2021.

Today, many of the recommendations in the Walkable Towson Plan have been completed, such as the streetscape on Washington Avenue and the greening of Patriot Plaza. Local government should aim over the next two years to complete the vision of that groundbreaking study as the private sector does the rest.

The constituents I represent are looking forward to these improvements. The tone of collaboration established by the new county executive is exactly what was missing in years' past. When residents understand the greater good of redeveloping downtown Towson — so that we can preserve our cherished green space and create a sense of vibrancy in our older communities — they are more willing to accept change.

But they want dialogue and real results. And we’re giving it to them. Let's get to work. It's Towson's time.

David Marks (dmarks@baltimorecountymd.gov) has served as Towson's representative to the Baltimore County Council since 2010.

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