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Royal Farms gas station would ruin Towson’s gateway, critics say

Rendering of the proposed Royal Farms at York & Bosley

Rendering of the proposed Royal Farms at York & Bosley

Towson residents and environmentalists are fighting a proposed 24-hour, 16-pump Royal Farms gas station at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue, the site of the old fire station.

At the same time, Councilman David Marks said he’s getting pressure from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to push the proposal through, although the administration says that’s not accurate.

The gas station, whose developer is the local firm Caves Valley Partners, would sit at the edge of the new Towson overlay district. The district was created with the goal of having new development in downtown Towson meet standards for open space, preserve mature trees, and boost walkability.

Site of proposed Royal Farms, as viewed from the north

Site of proposed Royal Farms, as viewed from the north

Thanks to the county planning department adding language to the legislation that created the district, the Royal Farms project was grandfathered in, even though it doesn’t meet the new standards.

“This gigantic gas-station project is the worst possible use for this opportune location. The project flies in the face of the design principles that were put in place to make Towson greener, more walkable and more livable,” Beth Miller of the Green Towson Alliance said of the “Towson Gateway” project.

“On top of that, the tax revenue it would bring in is only a fraction of what the county could get from another type of development that would actually meet Towson’s improved guidelines,” she said. “Everything about this proposal is wrong except for the name. This is the northwest gateway to our city: Let’s get it right!”

In addition to the gas station, two buildings that would house retail and restaurants are also part of the proposal.

A county procurement panel had recommended several years ago that the land, which the county owns, be sold to developers who planned to put in a Harris Teeter grocery store. The developer ultimately could not get a commitment from the grocery chain so the project did not move forward.

Site of the proposed Royal Farms

Site of the proposed Royal Farms

The tax revenue from the Harris Teeter was projected to be more than $550,000 per year. The estimated annual tax revenue from the Royal Farms is just $26,000.  That’s because property taxes are based on a building’s square footage, and a gas station’s building is small, even though its overall footprint is large.

Many are urging the county to reject the Royal Farms and instead find a different project for the site.

“Due to overwhelming community opposition to the [Royal Farms project], the GTA calls on the County Executive to ask [Caves Valley] to withdraw their bid and issue a new request for proposal. The former fire station is an important gateway into Downtown Towson from the north, but a 16 pump gas station, farm store and suburban style retail center is not the appropriate image, design or land use to achieve the attractive, walkable, livable and sustainable Towson described in the recently adopted Downtown Towson District Overlay,” the Green Towson Alliance said in a statement.

Rendering of Royal Farms at York & Bosley

Rendering of Royal Farms at York & Bosley

At a community-input meeting in April, many people voiced opposition to the gas station, calling it “appalling,” “not aesthetically pleasing,” and saying it would make traffic in the area worse. Full notes from the input meeting can be read here.

Because current zoning for the site does not allow gas pumps, Caves Valley must pursue the project through a Planned Unit Development (PUD) resolution. A PUD is basically a request submitted by a district’s councilperson that asks for permission to build a project that otherwise would not be allowed.

no-royal-farms-sign

Many Towson residents have placed protest signs in their yards

Marks said he’s heard from many constituents who do not want the gas station, but he said he’s also heard from the Kamenetz administration.

“Senior members of the administration have made it clear that at least $8 million will be cut from the Fifth District if the resolution is not introduced to review the Towson Gateway Planned Unit Development. The $8 million could affect road resurfacing, flood control in east Towson, and school projects miles away from the Towson Gateway site,” Marks said.  

“The charter that was passed in the 1950s has given every county executive this type of power.  It’s disheartening, but unfortunately, it’s reality. Any councilmember must decide when to oppose the County Executive, and when to cooperate with the County Executive — who ultimately funds projects and manages the government,” Marks said.

Don Mohler, chief of staff for Kamenetz, said the administration put no pressure on Marks and that it’s simply a fact that the county would have $8 million less in its coffers if the Royal Farms sale doesn’t go through, as that is the sale price of the property.

“The allegation of a threat is simply not true,” Mohler said. “A PUD is totally at the discretion of the council. In terms of the County Executive, he spent 16 years on the council and he does not weigh in or invade their turf.”

Marks said: “I will let the citizens of Towson decide for themselves if they thought it was a threat or not.”

State Sen. Jim Brochin called the Royal Farms project an abomination” and urged Marks not to introduce the PUD despite any pressure he’s received.

“David needs to stop being the Cowardly Lion and develop some courage and do the right thing. That’s what the job is about,” Brochin said. “It’s insane that anyone could support this unless they’ve been influenced by campaign contributions.”

Marks said that as a county councilman, “I’m the one who has to deliver funding for important local projects.  Sen. Brochin can take the popular position every time, with few repercussions.  And with all due respect to the Senator’s insults, maybe he was in the Land of Oz when I was taking on developers and the Kamenetz administration during the last rezoning cycle.”

He said he plans to introduce the PUD resolution this Monday, which begins the review process. The PUD application can be read here.

pud royal farms

An excerpt from the Royal Farms PUD application

“But I am talking to both the developers and groups like the Green Towson Alliance about what the resolution will say,” Marks said. “The Design Review Panel evaluates new construction in Downtown Towson.   The recently passed Downtown Towson overlay legislation provides the metrics for how development is reviewed. The resolution could not require DRP review if the developer agrees to changes, or if could specify that the DRP follows the parameters of the overlay district legislation.”

Neither Caves Valley nor Royal Farms returned requests for interviews.

Corner of Loch Raven and Taylor

Corner of Loch Raven and Taylor

One of the features of the Royal Farms project that bothers detractors the most is the planned wall that will surround a portion of the property. They point to a similar wall at the corner of Loch Raven Boulevard and Taylor Avenue and say it would be a hugely unattractive way to present the core of Towson.

A 20-foot wall running hundreds of feet around the south end, with no trees for shade, could not be more discouraging for pedestrians,” said Wendy Jacobs of the Green Towson Alliance. 

Jacobs, who lives in West Towson, ticked off the issues she sees with the project: “Perched way on top, a mega gas station-jumbo convenience store lit and open round-the-clock to beckon beltway trucks and rush hour traffic alike. Minimal property tax revenue. Complete impervious surfacing. Gas next to a school playing field contra to recent guidelines. The real risk of creating a brownfield across the street from one of the very close competing gas stations.”

“All of this tucked into the edge of the greenest part of Towson,” Jacobs said. “What on earth could the County be thinking?”


-Kris Henry, Towson Flyer 

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23 Comments on "Royal Farms gas station would ruin Towson’s gateway, critics say"

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Ty Ford

In a previously published piece, Mr. Kaminetz said he was trying to make Towson the next Bethesda. I don’t think this gets us there.

Lynn

Kevin..is making $$$ at Towson.s expense..Shame on his devilish heart..he needs to back off..on the development of Bosley.fire station. .no more congestion..NO MORE..!!

Evelyn Bradley

Please do not put the Royal Farms proposal forward. It’s bad enough that we have drug stores opening across the street from drug stores…how many gas stations do we need in a couple of blocks? Towson development is out of control. I live in West Towson

Chris Hartstein

Monday, October 3rd @ 5:30 at Patriot Plaza
Rally for a more profitable, prettier plan for Towson Gateway!!!!

A Democrat and a voter
A Democrat and a voter

Part of the problem here is also the split communities within District 5 — Towson and Perry Hall, etc. — which are in different geographic areas. Any council person in this district is working to serve residents in both, which is difficult at best. Shame on the county executive and others for taking advantage of this and threatening to hold off millions from projects in one area — Perry Hall — if the elected council member moves to protect the interests of residents of another area, Towson and environs. Or vice versa. This massive gas station is a bad project as proposed, and I’m afraid PUD tinkers will not resolve the problems. Just consider: Current zoning does NOT allow gas stations, partly due to environmental concerns. The projected long term tax revenues are paltry. The traffic jams on that stretch of York Road are barely survivable as is. Diesel fuel pumps will equal semi trucks. The county exec should reconsider pressing this so hard and work out something else with prospective developers. Kamenetz’ legacy is on the line just as he is moving toward a run for the governor. Voters remember.

Baltimore family

First- thank you for writing this article. I had not realized just where this was planned until reading this. This would impact our daily commute as we live just north of 695. That part of York rd is already so congested during rush hours- I hope this does not go through. I can tell you, if this project had been completed last year, we likely would have chosen a different school (which is in the heart of Towson) for our youngest because of the increased difficulty in getting there. Given the lack of tax revenue, this does not seem worth the burden on the area so eloquently stated in this article. As the commenter Sam C states that this would be better than what is currently there, I disagree. I think there are better options that would not have a constant flow of traffic in and out, higher revenue, less environmental impact. Let’s look at best options as opposed to what suits the county executive and county council best.

Michelle

Dear Councilman Marks, I strongly oppose this project. Please do not introduce a PUD resolution for a Royal Farms at this site. As a West Towson resident I am concerned about the congestion, trash and lack of aesthetics and green space that this development would bring.

Darwin Holder
Dear Councilman Marks, I urge you to NOT introduce a PUD resolution for the Towson Gateway Royal Farms project. I understand that you may feel duty-bound to deliver funding for important local projects. However, the citizens of our district overwhelmingly oppose this project. We are willing to accept the decreased funding if that means defeating this project and waiting for a developer who is willing to comply with the Downtown Towson District Overlay. This willingness is calculated. First, a complying land use will generate greater revenue over its life than will the Royal Farms project, perhaps by an order of magnitude. Thus, any decreased revenues caused by the delay in development will be quickly recovered once a complying development is begun. Submitting a PUD for the Royal Farms project, therefore, appears to be a case of “penny wise, pound foolish”. Second, the voters of our district are educated, intelligent, and engaged. We are able to weigh the risks of bucking the county executive on this issue. And we are mature enough to accept the threat of lost revenue in order to preserve our quality of life. In fact, this is something we feel extremely strongly about. Whether the county executive’s office was making a threat to reduce spending in our district or merely stating fiscal reality, we accept the risk. We do not need, nor do we want, our district representative “protecting” us from our own better judgment. Third, the voters of our district are active voters. If we perceive… Read more »
A Substantial Taxpayer
A Substantial Taxpayer

From my understanding, the sales ‘contract’ approved by the county, with Caves Valley Partners and Royal Farms, apparently stipulated that the Planned Unit Development (PUD) be introduced. Yet that can only be done by the elected council member in that district. Can a contract with private for-profit companies require an elected official to act?

That does not seem proper, or maybe even legal. Seems the implications here would make such an agreement null and void. Pressure to ‘comply’ impedes with an elected official’s sworn duties and rights. Any contract attorneys out there? Civil liberties experts? Government oversight officials?

Sam C.
I’m not promoting a gas station, per se, but it’s not the worst thing for this space. There is not a southbound gas station along York Road between the beltway and Stevenson Lane. Adding a gas station at the intersection would potentially alleviate much of the left lane, cross-traffic turns that congests southbound traffic. This addition would be more in line with an actual state highway, the official designation for York Road. The fear mongering would make some think a strip of illicit activity is in the works. Additionally, this is county property. Those using such hyperbole should consider buying the property and doing as they please with it. Supposedly we have a free market real estate system, though anyone looking to buy and develop in Towson would seriously question that idea. The current rundown embarrassment at York and Bosley resembles the Towson Triangle and Towson Row, two developments that would alleviate truly embarrassing space at the southern end of Towson, but continue to lag and suffer due to the complaints of a vocal minority and inability for David Marks to stand up for what’s in the majority of Towson’s best interest. Look at the cash hand out the GTCCA got after complaining about Towson Row. Look at the obstructionism leading to further decline and embarrassment along York Road. That’s business as usual in Towson- Obstructionism, bribery, decline and decay. Rinse. Repeat. Towson residents continue to fight mass transit options, much of the fight stemming from generations- old xenophobia. Without… Read more »
what?

I think a permanent development with broad negative aesthetic and planning (and traffic) implications for downtown Towson should trump your desire for a convenient gas station — especially since there are gas stations all over the area. (Charles and Stevenson, York and Stevenson, and even right on York, near where this development would go.) Your statement that this is a “vocal minority” opposing this plan is not supported by any evidence anywhere.

Sam C.
Your claims of “broad negative aesthetic and planning” are incorrect relative the current state of the property. The aesthetics of the northern and southern gateways are abysmal and embarrassing to all Towson residents, and should be embarrassing to anyone who pleas for votes in an area. Even in an area with such high voter apathy as Towson. This is not a regional destination retail & gas station. The hyperbole and fear surrounding a low-order service is unfounded and ridiculous. In addition to improving the interestion, the project will alleviate cross-traffic turning and congestion for southbound drivers, not draw hundred of people from other areas to Towson’s northern entrance for gas. That’s market research in it’s most basic form, easy enough for even the biggest fear mongerers to understand. I don’t drive much, but driving miles out of my way to Charles and Stevenson puts more cars on the road and is incredibly illogical. Cries of traffic issues are unfounded. There are big time environmental concerns with a gas station, but nothing that can’t be addressed. Towson residents need to understand that a vocal minority will complain and call foul no matter what type of development is considered. It’s the same tired whining and complaining that leads to our current blighted gateways, bride-receiving interest groups that pose as neighborhood committees, and do-little local politicians who are held hostage by the previously mentioned vocal minority. Consider the economic and environmental impact and improved walkability if Triangle project and Towson Row weren’t strongly… Read more »
A bad idea

That’s a specious argument. No one is arguing to keep the current blight on that corner. People are asking for something other than a RoFo gas station, which is problematic from an environmental and aesthetic standpoint.

Happy Towson Resident
Happy Towson Resident

David Marks has shown himself to be a strong supporter of controlled, responsible growth. I don’t think this plan is any different. The first proposal for the property included a Harris Teeter and 400 apartment units. Area schools, and the traffic situation couldn’t support that type of development.
The location is certainly not going to become a park.
I am confident that Royal Farms and the county planners can come up with some sort of “happy medium” so that all parties can come to an accord.
Maybe, in the process, the traffic situation at that corner even can be improved.
Let’s give it a chance.

Concerned Towson homeowner

We must work together to prevent this horror scene from becoming a reality! Towson is in poor enough shape as it is, and if we don’t stand up and fight it, York Road will start looking like Pulaski Highway. High-rises, chain restaurants and concrete complexes do not enhance quality of life. This is all about money for greedy developers, and in turn their donations to Kamenetz’s political war chest. We must stand up for our interests, especially when our elected officials fail so miserably to do so.

Sam C.

Do you prefer the embarrassing decay and blight that have been lining our northern and southern gateway for years?

what?

This development, on its own, would not make that decay and blight go away. It may exacerbate it.

A bad idea

David Marks should oppose this project. Towson residents would stand behind him.

Tony Solesky

David Marx a Republican, endorsed Kevin Kamenetz a Democrat in his second run at County Executive. The irony of the article is that Senator Brochin , Councilmen Marx and Chief of Staff Don Molher, (as they always are) were admirably honest and quite correct in how they cast, both the demeanor, motivations and political circumstance of one another. If people begin to recognize this fact of political life, dismissing what each promotes about themselves and takes as gospel what they say about the other, the amalgam of truth will set you free. This in all reality is the perpetual circumstance of a constituent. It brings to light the intrinsically corrupt nature of a system where things are only advanced to be politically equitable or as it is termed, a bipartisan agreement-among each other. The operative word- partisan, not remotely similar to nonpartisan, which would be mutually equitable for both constituents and representatives alike . No such animal exists.

David Marks

You are wrong. I have never endorsed Kevin Kamenetz. I appreciate every comment here, but won’t ignore false comments. And please spell my name correctly.

Tony Solesky

Are you implying that you supported Republican George Harmon’s efforts (his falling on a sword) at County Executive???

Another appauled resident
Another appauled resident

Does anyone reading this article actually believe Don Mohler’s statement, “A PUD is totally at the discretion of the council. In terms of the County Executive, he spent 16 years on the council and he does not weigh in or invade their turf” –? Ummm, let’s remember that a couple of years ago, Kevin Kamenetz called community leaders into his conference room and “announced” that his administration had decided that there would be a gas station on this site, even though he knew at the time that this gas station could not be built without a PUD bill being introduced by Councilman Marks. Mr. Kamenetz DID NOT EVEN INVITE Councilman Marks to that “announcement” and never sought an ounce of community input before making a “announcement” about a project over which he has absolutely no authority to make happen. I think the County Administration believes that if they just say something, people will believe it, even if it is contrary to provable, historical fact.

Oh, and the award went to…. (big surprise) … Caves Valley Partners. I won’t bore you with the details about the cozy relationship between this developer and the County Exec. Everyone already knows about that.

Appalled Resident and Voter
Appalled Resident and Voter

Great in-depth reporting! Wow, what a mess. David Marks is no cowardly lion—-look at all his recent green zoning moves. But this decision is indeed a big one that can influence the entire future of Towson. This dysfunctional project does not belong there for all of the reasons eloquently stated in this article. A better, classier development would bring in similar revenues. Even so, $8 million is not worth it. A 24-hour mega gas station complex that offers less revenue annually? The tiny six-pump gas station across the intersection offers a good example of how in-and-out traffic is already chaotic at that intersection. This is a very, very bad idea.

I urge David Marks to stand up to such pressure. If there is no political threat, as county leaders contend, then just let him do his job…the job voters elected him to do. This is, after all, public property. Our property, as residents and taxpayers. And we will be here long after the county executive has gone on to greener pastures. Don’t de-green Towson on your way out.

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