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Residents outraged as county clears 30 trees at old fire station

Tree removal at fire station, courtesy of Roger Gookin

The controversy over the proposed gas station at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue grew more heated after Baltimore County had 30 trees removed from the site.

The tree removal on Saturday followed the demolition of the Baltimore County Fire Academy, which was next to the fire station. Although the fire station remains standing, mature trees along its perimeter were taken down. 

Before tree removal

After tree removal

“We are sickened by the chain of events that led to destruction of 30 healthy and valuable trees on public land. Why would the County take this action which provides huge benefits to a developer that is only at the concept plan submission stage of the development process pending community input?” said Beth Miller of the Green Towson Alliance.

“The use of this land has not been decided, yet the County unilaterally and without notice removes specimen trees and many others of great value to the community?”

We are sickened by the chain of events that led to destruction of 30 healthy and valuable trees on public land.

“Specimen trees” are trees that are at least 30 inches in diameter when measured at 4.5 feet from the ground.

Tree removal at fire station; photo courtesy of Roger Gookin

Developer Caves Valley Partners wants to build a large 24-hour Royal Farms gas station at the site that many in the community oppose.

Because current zoning for the site does not allow gas pumps, Caves Valley must pursue the project — known as the Towson Gateway — through a Planned Unit Development (PUD) resolution. A PUD is a request submitted by a district’s councilperson that asks for permission to build a project that otherwise would not be allowed. For a PUD to be approved, according to the county, the project must “achieve substantially higher-quality development than a conventional development or provide a public benefit that would otherwise not be obtained.”

Rendering of the proposed Royal Farms at York & Bosley

The Flyer submitted the following questions to a spokeswoman for Baltimore County: 

1. Why did the county decide to demolish the old fire academy last week? (Why then?) 

2. Why did they take down all the trees? The PUD for the Royal Farms is months away from approval or rejection — why take all the trees down now when its future use is unknown?

3. What if the PUD is rejected and a new developer had wanted to work around some of the trees? Or what if it eventually becomes a (treeless) park? 

4. If a developer had wanted to take down these trees, what would he/she have to do? Get permission from county? Replant a certain size of tree? Pay into a fund? 

5. Does the county plan to replant any trees in place of these? If so, where and when and what kind and how big will they be? 

6. Critics are saying the Kamenetz administration has just done a huge favor for Caves Valley, whom they note is a large donor to Mr. Kamenetz. Is there a counter argument to be made? 

In response, the spokeswoman said in an email: “The County is demolishing a vacant building, cleaning up, and preparing the site at York and Bosley for sale, pursuant to a contract approved by the Council in 2013. Any new development plan will require a landscaping plan, likely including many more trees than were there before.” 

David Marks

But County Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, said it wasn’t supposed to play out like this. 

“The Towson Gateway project has not been approved,” Marks said. “In December, the County Council required additional review for this project, and in doing so, said the following:  ‘The project shall be reviewed by the Baltimore County Design Review Panel; The Panel shall make recommendations regarding (1) methods of protecting the Immaculate Conception Church property and (2) the consistency of the design theme throughout the project, including … that the landscaping design for the project includes the use of lush plantings, and that the landscape design at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue includes …. existing mature trees that surround the site are protected.'”

The bottom line is that the administration ignored a legislative resolution, and it is indefensible that notice was never given that this clear-cutting of the trees was imminent.

Marks added that the Kamenetz administration was “shifting blame.”

“The property was not sold, and the resolution – which is legislative – carries the importance.  The bottom line is that the administration ignored a legislative resolution, and it is indefensible that notice was never given that this clear-cutting of the trees was imminent,” Marks said.

According to Baltimore County’s website: “Forests and trees provide many critical benefits for communities and our natural environment. County-wide, forests and trees remove and store atmospheric carbon, helping to reduce greenhouse gases and cool the land. In developed areas, trees shade and cool buildings, lessen the heat reflected from paved areas, and enhance the quality of life with their natural beauty.” 

Towson resident Dave Taylor has four elementary-aged kids, including two with special needs. He said he is “appalled” by the county’s actions.

“When I looked at that space, I imagined what a great spot it would be for an accessible park.  The 120 year old oaks, green hills of the nearby church, and a lot closer than Angel Park out in the White Marsh area,” he said. “Those oaks are gone now, and it will be four to five generations before we can ‘replace’ those old growth specimen trees.”

“We need transparency and honesty, not PUD exceptions and sneaky Saturday morning massacres.”

“I still can’t imagine a truck stop and strip mall there, and I hope this disaster on Saturday wakes people up to what’s going on with that property,” Taylor added. “We need transparency and honesty, not PUD exceptions and sneaky Saturday morning massacres.”

Were a developer to pursue removing the larger trees, a variance would need to be granted under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act (FCA).

“A variance from the FCA’s requirements may only be granted if the applicant demonstrates that retaining the tree would result in ‘unwarranted hardship.’  The FCA applies generally to developments of approximately 1 acre and above,” according to a report by the Chesapeake Legal Alliance. 

“While unwarranted hardship in the context of FCA variances has not been addressed by the courts, the concept has been interpreted in the context of zoning variances and explicitly defined under other environmental laws to mean denial of reasonable and significant use of the property which requires a showing of denial of all viable economic use of the property absent the variance.

The case law on the denial of reasonable and significant use makes clear that the standard is a high bar. It is insufficient to show that the denial of the variance would make the property less profitable or diminish its value. Nor is prior granting of similar exceptions for other properties sufficient to justify a variance from the law. However, FCA variances are often granted when they are necessary for the applicant to meet all legal requirements for development of a property, or where the denial would prevent safe development.” 

Miller, of the Green Towson Alliance, said the group is baffled by the county’s actions.

“What is going on in Baltimore County land use?,” she asked. “When do environmental issues get taken into account, if ever?”

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20 Comments on "Residents outraged as county clears 30 trees at old fire station"

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Andrew

Meanwhile the Towson Row site on York Road sits like a environmentally condemned brownfield behind chain link fences and graffitied “coming soon” banners. Baltimore County seems to be determined to uglify itself.

Joanne C. Simpson

There was actually a testy exchange between Councilman David Marks and County Administrative Officer Fred Homan at Tuesday’s council meeting. Marks asked for notification about any demolition work on public projects, especially at such a “sensitive intersection,” saying a phone call only takes a few minutes.

But no promises were heard. Homan shot back that the county is “trying to accelerate a close on the settlement of the project.”

Marks read from the law regarding the PUD, pointing out that “mature trees on the property were supposed to be protected.”

How can the council vote and stipulate, and the county move ahead anyway by chopping down such trees?

One has to wonder why 30 trees were cut down on a Saturday, when no constituent could call the county to try to halt the slash-and-haul-away?

Maryland State Senator Jim Brochin said today that he was appalled, but not surprised. The Caves Valley Partners project–a large gas station and Royal Farms–has been opposed by much of West Towson to no avail so far. “It is a classic example of pay-to-play in action,” said Brochin.

My question is: What Next?

Roger

Accelerate? Insure is more accurate. If the tree problem is gone there is no tree problem. Just like the Historic Owings Mansion. Google that David Marks and reconsider putting your name on this debacle.

Amy

Shameful. Who signed the work order? The COUNTY took down the trees? That is some VERY valuable wood/lumber there. Who is making the profit? Follow the money to find out who is responsible.

Jane

Even BG&E gives several weeks’ notice to area homeowners who may be concerned before trimming trees!!

Neighbor and Taxpayer
Neighbor and Taxpayer

Yes, what was said at the Baltimore County Council meeting by county administrators was that the “settlement on the property was being EXPEDITED,” because the county was waiting on that $8 million (as was offered by developer Caves Valley Partners). The meeting was recorded and the response can be confirmed. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is trying then to rush this through. Take action, folks. That also means taxpayers additionally paid for the destruction of these trees, and the buildings. My children saw those majestic oaks cut and stacked on that truck. They were crying.

With the law cited by Councilman David Marks on Tuesday, this appears to have been a possibly illegal move by the county for the benefit of a developer. And worries over $8 million? The county is forking over tens of millions for student laptop leases at public schools this fiscal year without batting a collective eye. Give me a break.

How do we know other trees there will be protected and a green buffer exist between the site and the school fields next door. Hands, or Saws, Off Those Trees!

Sam C

I strongly encourage the community to begin picking up litter and removing invasive species from Towson’s green space. The county can easily remove wooded lots when invasives take over and when the community shows little concerns for public dumping (check the riparian buffer throughout the Towson Triangle).

The trees, and property, facing York Road were covered with English Ivy and other invasives. This has not been addressed for quite some time. Strong winds this spring/summer could have knocked the trees into traffic. Imagine the outrage if the county allowed this liability to go unattended! Take the removal option away from the county by being active stewards.

Let’s be proactive with our concern if we truly want to protect green space. It starts one weekend at time by cleaning up these areas. Maybe the county will recognize an active community presence and importance, rather than just being blitzed by complaints once the trees are gone. Unfortunately, far too many residents don’t show their appreciation until something is gone.

Oh, and don’t call the police when you see volunteers cleaning up!

Taxpayer and voter

Hmmm… Seems Caves Valley Partners would be the ones reporting volunteers as trespassers… Aren’t those their huge Leasing signs up already? :0 They certainly act like it’s their property when it suits them, and taxpayers, who are apparently paying for demo, when not… Seems like the cart is before the horse and the whole shebang is all jumbled up and legally suspect under PUD requirements at this point. Upgrades could work, but public land rushed to settlement despite zoning law and council-voted stipulations? Bears a closer look all around, and as soon as possible before we indeed end up with an even worse mess all around.

Neighbor

At the county council meeting tonight, someone from the county said the county was accelerating the project. Footage is available, somehow….worth getting.

Jennifer Shapiro

What a disgrace. Shame on all the county leaders who allowed the removal of these mature oak trees, stealthily and over the wkd before anyone could protest. This is not the way I want to see my taxpayer $ spent. Baltimore County council has certainly not operated our best interests w this travesty.

R Hilgartner

Who actually paid for the demolition of the building and the removal of the trees? County funds or developer funds?

WendyJ

Sad to say, David Marks and the rest of the Council were warned and begged by over 1,000 signature petitioners, thousands of emails to Council, and hundreds of individuals who rallied and spoke at many meetings, not to let this PUD resolution go through. He was provided excellent legal justification for that stance. Well, he let the spirits out of the bottle in December of last year anyway. The only way he can hope to make reparations to his constituents in Towson is to put them back in the bottle. Save the “outrage” and kindly pull the PUD resolution Mr. Marks.

Neighbor

can the PUD be pulled?

WendyJ

Yes, by David Marks. Join the Towson Gateway Protest Facebook page to see continuing updates.

Sam C

Have the protesters put together a viable alternative plan (not a wish list, but an actual attainable plan)? I’m all for a reasonable alternatives. A gas station/retail strip is not anyone’s top pick, I and many other property owners just don’t want to see another Towson Triangle debacle, where the property is abandoned and chained off for the next decade.

Dennis

You mean like the Towson Row debacle, from the same well-connected developer as the fire station.

Sam C

No, I thought I was pretty clear. Obstruction killed the Towson Triangle improvement, now we’re all paying for it.

Dennis

Arrogance and incompetence on the part of the developer killed the Towson Row project. We’re all paying for that as well.

Roger

It appears we have more favors and county assets benefitting the same organization by executive action. This is a long term pattern that deserves close scrutiny. So does the inadequate enforcement of Baltimore County Adequate Public Facility guidelines that overload our roads, schools and sewers at public expense. If public facilities are overloaded there should be a building moratorium until the facilities adequate.

Larry Fogelson

I don’t even know where to start. I have been working in Rodgers Forge for years to plant new street trees and to replace some of the many mature, healthy street trees that the county continues to remove for no sound reason – it has been death by 1,000 cuts. I know other citizens in other neighborhoods who have been doing the same work for years.

I have made quiet but unsuccessful attempts to seek improvements to the State and county laws, regulations, guidelines, and practices that “govern” the behavior of the County toward our neighborhood street tree canopies. This is just the latest, largest, and most blatant act by a county that has no respect for the value that trees provide, and total respect for anything any developer would like to do. I hope this is a wake up call to the citizens of Baltimore County and the Towson area communities to press our elected officials for change.

It is beyond my comprehension that the County has been receiving an Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA annual award for years (see link below). I have contacted them to ask them to review their award, and hope others will also do so as well.

https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/News/BaltimoreCountyNow/Kamenetz_Accepts_Tree_City_USA_Award_Proclaims_Arbor_Day

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