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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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?”