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Council members keep quiet, community speaks up at work session on Royal Farms

Towson residents were out in force today at a Baltimore County Council work session at which the controversial Royal Farms at York Road and Bosley Avenue was discussed. Nineteen people signed up to speak about the proposed project, and 17 of them spoke against the gas station. Two people — Steve Sibel, a partners at developer Caves Valley Partners, and Christopher Mudd, an attorney for Caves Valley — spoke in favor of the project.

Mudd has argued that the county already agreed to sell the land to Caves Valley for the project and that it can’t change its mind now.

Opponents of the project, however, note that the gas station is simply under review by the county at this point and that it is not until the PUD is approved that the contract can go into effect. A gas station is not allowed at that location under current zoning, so Caves Valley applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) that lets developers get around zoning requirements if they gain county approval. PUDs were intended to allow projects that would benefit the community even if they don’t mean zoning requirements.

The legislation that created PUDs says that the resolution to move the PUD forward can be amended within 90 days of the required community-input meeting. That meeting occurred on May 8 of this year. The video below shows a tenacious Towson resident, Amy Rehkemper, at that meeting trying to nail down whether Caves Valley was involved in the decision to cut down 30 trees at the site, which was in violation of the county resolution allowing review of the PUD.

Councilman David Marks submitted the original legislation that started the review process, but later soured on the project after the tree removal; the huge outcry from the community; the plan to not improve Bosley Avenue roads until after the Royal Farms project is complete; and the fact that opponents will sue over the issue and it will be in litigation for years to come.

When Sibel, of Caves Valley, testified, he implied that Marks only moved the PUD forward because he wanted Kevin Kamenetz’ administration to support converting property in Towson owned by the Radebaugh family into a park, and that once that was agreed to, Marks turned against the PUD.

“This is not the time for councilmanic courtesy,” Sibel said, referring to the practice of council members deferring to the wishes of the council member of the district affected in such cases. “This is a time for leadership and fairness, and I ask you to vote against this resolution.”

Beth Miller of the Green Towson Alliance, which opposes the Royal Farms, told the council she didn’t think it was true that Marks pulled the PUD because he got what he wanted with the Radebaugh property. But if the Council feels it needs to punish Marks over the issue, she said, “we beg them to please not punish the citizens of Towson at the same time. We are the ones who will be stuck with a terrible development.”

Marks said after the meeting that Sibel’s “insult-laden performance today demonstrates why Caves Valley Partners is loathed by so many in the community.”

“He is wrong — the County Executive committed to me in February that he would buy the [Radebaugh] property.  I’d like to think that the more than 1,000 residents of Towson who supported the sale made the difference in getting it over the finish line,” Marks said.

Although the audience was vocal on their thoughts about the gas station on Tuesday, council members were largely quiet on the issue, and it is not clear if Marks will have the votes he needs to kill the project. The council is set to vote on the issue on Aug. 7.

-Kris Henry, 
The Towson Flyer

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6 Comments on "Council members keep quiet, community speaks up at work session on Royal Farms"

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Towson taxpayer & voter
Towson taxpayer & voter

Here’s where the story is on all this: Robust campaign contributions to whom, when, and why regarding the proposed Towson Gateway project.


Am I the only one who is troubled by the fact that the owner of the nearby Exxon station stands in the back of each hearing and orchestrates everything? I bet he is covering all expenses as well. This is not about protecting the community, it is about protecting a substandard gas station from competition. The smokescreen of trees and fumes and traffic may fool Councilman Flip Flop but most of us can see right through this charade.

Anneslie Resident

You must be joking. Community activists are the ones who are “orchestrating” this protest. We have spent countless hours: documenting the trees before they were destroyed, communicating with the County Council, fruitless attempts to communicate with the developer, letters to the editor, creating and administering a petition, preparing testimony for public meetings, transcribing video, communicating with the media, consulting with experts in planning, law, environmental regulations, health guidelines and traffic. I could go on. If we were to be paid for the hours put into this community effort we’d all be able to contribute to the campaign chests that run this County and have a real influence on development. Please tell me, where is my check from the Exxon owner?

Towson taxpayer & voter
Towson taxpayer & voter

Hear, hear! Besides, Marks is following the letter of zoning law. The PUD process is a process — there is no done-deal contract and those who try to use that as an excuse are missing the point of good government, as well as giving in to one developer’s bullying tactics. Exploratory site plan money spent so far by developers was their gamble, not ours. Slinging spurious labels makes little sense, and is uninformed.

As the Baltimore Sun and Towson Flyer note, according to the law: “The county council may introduce a resolution that amends or modifies . . . ” That is exactly what is going on here, after numerous recent ill-thought-out actions by the county and the potential buyer have come to light: massive tree loss, undisclosed 10,000-gallon underground fuel storage tank, questionable taxpayer costs, continuing refusal to work with the community, etc. etc.

A large gas station and 24-hour convenience store at this site is a failed concept. It’s time to seek out and secure other projects that will not be facing protracted litigation, and that will better suit longterm county tax coffers, neighboring communities, future traffic patterns, and an upscale and increasingly vibrant downtown business and walkability-oriented residential community. Towson as Bethesda? The county needs to up its game.

Also a Towson Taxpayer & Voter
Also a Towson Taxpayer & Voter

Those of you supporting Marks’ flip flopping will be super burned up when his flip flops go against you. His type of erratic, spineless behavior goes both ways.

Backing out of a this deal, good or bad, is creating a nightmare precedent for Towson. Other investors would be wise to stay away when the power of real estate development lies with the squeaky wheels, not the conventional avenues of growth and development.

You wonder why acres of prime real estate in Towson look like a tornado just touched down? Try being a business owner in a climate of litigation and worse-than-weak council leadership.

Towson resident and voter
Towson resident and voter
I would deeply appreciate balance and thoughtfulness by the Baltimore County Council on the Towson Gateway project, especially Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who is likely to run for county executive. The concerning issues before the council set a number of alarming precedents for similar projects, and undermine well-planned community development elsewhere in council districts and across the county. It is time to move on. Quickly, here’s why: 1. While concerns about contracts and plans are understandable, the Caves Valley Partners purchase offer was not a binding contract, and remains reliant on the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process and community input. The two speakers who supported (17 opposed) on Tuesday were both with Caves Valley, and their complaints sounded petulant. Fairness to whom? As the Baltimore Sun editorial board and many others note, it is time to move on: The current circumventing of zoning restrictions; as well as dismissal of EPA environmental guidelines to prevent gas stations within 500 feet of schools; clear-cutting the county’s own forestry conservation laws and numerous mature, canopy trees; and an anti-pedestrian design that violates downtown Towson’s Master Plan, in the end, does not make sense. Baltimore Sun editorial: 2. Another developer has recently shown interest in bringing a financially productive longterm project for this site, vs. the planned $26,0000 or so a year in tax revenues. The current project is neither financially sound nor is a another large gas station and convenience store appropriate/quality development for downtown Towson, one of Baltimore County’s jewels. 3. There… Read more »