Most people are looking forward to the holiday season, while others who live in Towson are gravely concerned and preoccupied about a new proposal to build a high-rise dormitory at 706 Washington Ave. The Baltimore County administration has touted transparency under the leadership of Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., but has quickly scheduled a public meeting in the middle of the the busy holiday season on Dec. 17, well after the approval process for the new building has been underway.
In a hastily scheduled meeting of its own last month, the West Towson Neighborhood Association and Towson Communities Alliance voiced concerns to the developer about the new apartment complex, which seemed to fall on deaf ears. The owner seemed put off by any suggestions or questions we had. We are concerned that the owner will get plans for the apartment complex approved by Baltimore County official and then try to sell this inherited property for a large profit to a student housing developer that has no interest in our community.
We sent a position paper to Councilman David Marks in early December and expressed our concerns. We pointed out many problems that we see as a concern to the community. These include issues that pertain to security (and the lack thereof), the structure of the building, market research, demand for dorm space, parking, lighting and signage and green space.
The proposed structure is enormous and aesthetically fraught. Development plans call for a building that will be 15 stories tall with over 200 apartments (two-bed efficiency units) to accommodate more than 400 students. These hundreds of students will live in this building several miles away from the Towson University campus, but the developer is not going to provide an adequate number of parking for them to leave their vehicles. During this process it has come out that the developer is not obligated to provide more than 45 parking spots at the building.
We were advised by the property owner that students could pay to park in a nearby garage at the corner of Ware and Washington avenues, or they could choose to take Uber from other garages. The problem with the Ware Avenue garage is that the county will move all local government employee parking to that garage in the next year and the number of spaces will be severely limited. We predict many of the students will choose to park in nearby neighborhoods and it will become the problem of the community to deal with enforcement complaints.
The other problem with the new development is that, unfortunately, there is no green space in the plans and there is a street level parking garage and utility pump room that will be located at a prominent corner. This proposal goes against the critical design and walkability standards that were developed for downtown Towson.
The residents that live near this planned development feel that one property owner is getting to drive decisions on an inappropriate project. Because Towson has no mayor or city manager to protect them, the community must bear the burden and the disadvantages of a fundamentally flawed project in the core of Towson. Nobody seems to want to listen to the concerns of Towson residents. Whenever, community residents question any development — no matter how problematic — we are brushed off and labeled as “anti-development.”
There has been a lot of good development in Towson lately, but this one is a departure from the norm. As a community we should have a significant say as to what projects should go forward that affect our neighborhoods. We implore future developers, county leaders and other stakeholders (like the Chamber of Commerce, emergency services, etc.) to engage with communities before submitting projects and allow them to provide input early in the process. Doing so will help foster greater transparency and in turn possibly allay concerns early in the process before projects are formally submitted to the county.
The residents of West Towson are hoping for a miracle this holiday and would like to see this project go away. Short of a miracle, there will be a community input meeting on Dec. 17 at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center. We encourage the community to come together and turn out in force to join us in solidarity as we articulate our concerns to the county and push back on this seemingly misplaced project.
We can do better. Perhaps after the community input meeting, we can then get into the holiday spirit.
John Weaver (email@example.com) is president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association.