Zoning is not a sexy subject, yet its implications can be immense. Towson is on the verge of making zoning changes that will have major long-term consequences and shape the future of the area.
If the changes are not handled correctly now, it could hurt Towson for decades to come.
Zoning classifications in Towson can be complicated because of our urban-suburban nature. From the standpoint of the residential community, the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations would like to see zoning decisions that do the following:
[pullquote]Granting BM-CT zoning virtually guarantees that projects will be massive with little to no public input or even scrutiny from our councilman.[/pullquote] Every four years, Baltimore County participates in the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP). Under CZMP, property owners and citizens can request any property in the county be considered for rezoning. A property could be up-zoned, allowing for a more intense use (taller, more dense, more commercial, etc.). Properties can also be down-zoned, which could permit less development (fewer houses per acre, more green space, no commercial use). Our councilman, David Marks, has the ultimate authority to grant the request, modify or deny it.
In Towson, there are always numerous requests to up-zone properties for more intense use. Towson has been identified as a growth area, and developers are looking to go big, tall, and dense. [pullquote]Developers are looking to go big, tall, and dense.[/pullquote]
Most developers insist that they can’t be profitable unless they can build to the highest degree possible. Often developers buy a property knowing the development they want is not allowed under current zoning. But they will request up-zoning at CZMP or asking for a PUD (Planned Unit Development, which is another avenue to circumvent existing zoning).
For the 2016 CZMP, there are three requests that ask for the highest possible zoning (BM-CT) – two in the Towson Triangle (where the American Legion is located) and one on Goucher College’s property.
BM-CT is synonymous with multi-story buildings. We are opposed to the three requests as we believe these are blank checks to the owners who are looking to sell their property to developers. Granting BM-CT zoning virtually guarantees that projects will be massive with little to no public input or even scrutiny from our councilman.
The two properties in the Triangle sit feet away from the failing intersection at York Road and Burke Avenue (an intersection that is rated F in terms of how long it takes cars to get through it), yet the county is mysteriously exempting it from regulations that were passed to address this specific issue.
The Adequate Facilities regulations were passed in 1979 to limit development in areas that didn’t have traffic, sewer, or school capacity. Even though development in the Triangle will dramatically affect traffic at York and Burke, the county exempts any development from being scrutinized under the regulation.
[pullquote]For the long term viability of Towson, it would be best for David Marks to deny these requests until there is a collective vision for development in these areas.[/pullquote] Unfortunately, there is no strong authority in Baltimore County that plans and coordinates large projects. We have a Design Review Panel that makes advisory (but not binding) recommendations. If the developers wants to follow the advice they can, but it’s not required.
On the zoning front, David Marks and the community are asked to agree to the up-zoning with no plans or specifics: “Just trust us.” If neighborhood groups question or oppose an up zone, we are once again labelled as anti-development and against economic growth.
In most cases, I’ve found Towsonites to be fairly supportive of good development. GTCCA and its member neighborhoods have championed developments like Towson Green, The Promenade Apartments, and the Fidelity building at the Towson Circle. Most residents want to see a vibrant, mixed use, low-rise (six stories or less) streetscape along York Road in downtown Towson.
We are at a crossroads in Towson where a few large projects can drastically change Towson. If the projects are done poorly, there is no going back. For the long term viability of Towson, it would be best for David Marks to deny these requests until there is a collective vision for development in these areas.
Greater Towson Council of Community Associations (GTCCA)