There will likely be a large and vocal crowd at Monday night’s community-input meeting where the proposed Royal Farms gas station at York Road and Bosley Avenue will be discussed.
Outrage over the proposed development, called Towson Station, grew more heated last month when Baltimore County told its on-call contractor to tear down not only the vacant fire-academy building on the site, but also 30 trees, some of which were very large. The old fire station remains on the site.
Towson-based developer Caves Valley Partners has said it will pay $8 million for the county-owned site so it can build shops, restaurants and a large 24-hour gas station. The proposal is still in the review phase and has not been finalized. Caves Valley is also the developer behind the stalled Towson Row project at York Road and Towsontown Boulevard.
Opponents of the Royal Farms plan said they were confused as to why the county would spend the money to clear both trees and a building when the property was being sold “as is.”
“The County had a vacant building on the site and for safety reasons removed the building,” a spokeswoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’ office said in an email. She did not give a reason for the tree removal.
The building had been vacant for more than a decade before the county demolished it.
So far the county has spent $75,000 to clear the site of trees, structures and debris, the spokeswoman said.
At an April council meeting, Fred Homan, the chief administrative officer for the Kamenetz administration, said the site had been cleared because “the county is currently moving to accelerate the settlement on the property so the county can receive the $8 million that it’s currently had to forward finance through the sale of debt. … The county needs the cash from the sale of the property.”
Current zoning does not allow gas pumps at the site, so Caves Valley, which is a large financial supporter of Kamenetz, applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which allows the county council to approve non-compliant uses for land if the proposed project will “achieve substantially higher-quality development than a conventional development or provide a public benefit that would otherwise not be obtained.”
In this case, the cited public benefit is a donation of $50,000 for trail improvements, tree planting and two speed-display signs in Towson.
County code does not set guidelines related to how substantial a PUD’s “public benefit” must be.
Councilman David Marks, who represents downtown Towson, introduced the PUD last year despite vocal opposition. He was angered, however, that the Kamenetz administration removed trees from the site when a council resolution about the project specifically said they could not be cut down without proper applications and review.
As part of the review process, Marks could revoke the PUD — which would kill the project — within 90 days following Monday’s meeting.
“I am absolutely counting on him to pull the PUD immediately after the community-input meeting,” said Peggy King, a Towson resident who has been fighting the gas station.
The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations (GTCCA) said in a statement that it hopes the meeting will be a turning point.
“Given the recent destruction of irreplaceable tree canopy by County Government, even the small amount of support for this project is eroding quickly,” the group said in an email to the community. “This meeting could tip the balance in our favor if we can pack the house and show the developer that he is making a mistake with this project.”
Marks hasn’t said what he plans to do.
“I certainly encourage anyone who has an opinion on this project, pro or con, to attend the meeting. I know there is hostility toward the project that has been amplified by the Kamenetz administration’s clear-cutting of the trees,” Marks said in an email.
“I share that anger and it has certainly impacted my perspective,” Marks said on Sunday. “A resolution to terminate the project must be introduced within 90 days of tomorrow’s meeting.”
The community-input meeting will be held at 7:00 PM on Monday, May 8, at the conference center at Sheppard Pratt (6501 N. Charles Street, Towson). Parking is free.