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Caves Valley wins over County Council; Royal Farms development will advance

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, Scott Hall, and Mary Ellen Pease

By Kris Henry,
The Towson Flyer

In a huge blow to community activists who had fought the project, the Baltimore County Council on Monday voted to table legislation from Councilman David Marks that would have stopped development of a large gas station at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue.

The vote clears the way for developer Caves Valley Partners to move forward with the process of building a 24-hour Royal Farms at the site.

“Over the weekend I’ve had extensive conversations with Caves Valley Partners, with Royal Farms, with the County Executive’s office, and all parties over the weekend have agreed to re-look at this agreement, re-look at the negotiation — re-look at the possibility of even eliminating the gas stations,” Council President Tom Quirk, a Democrat, said. 

“I want to stress this very much — all parties are looking for a win-win solution for the community, a win-win solution for Royal Farms, a win-win solution for Caves Valley. And so with that new information, I’m moving to table [Marks’ resolution to stop the gas station],” Quirk said.

Democrats Vicki Almond, Cathy Bevins and Julian Jones joined with Quirk to table Marks’ bill to halt the gas station. Republicans Wade Kach and Todd Crandell voted with Marks, who is also a Republican.

Opponents of the project immediately left the chambers, with a few shouting “Do your job!” and “You’re corrupt!”

A gas station is not allowed by the area’s zoning, so developer Caves Valley Partners applied for a PUD (Planned Unit Development) to avoid having to comply with the zoning. Despite strong opposition from adjacent neighborhoods, in December 2016 Marks approved moving the PUD forward for review.

“This vote means the majority of the County Council is run by developers — it’s a culture that is incredibly disturbing,” state Sen. Jim Brochin, who is expected to run for County Executive in the next election, said in an interview after the meeting. “Developers feel like they can do whatever they want because they’ve bought out a majority of the council. It’s enough. It’s foul.”

As part of the normal review process, the PUD will eventually go before an administrative law judge.

“The developer still has to prove, per the PUD process, that what they plan to develop is of substantially higher quality than what otherwise could have been achieved without the PUD,” said Ron Council, one of the residents fighting the Royal Farms.

“This property is not zoned for a gas station, so they have to go in and prove that by putting a gas station there, they’re putting in a development of substantially higher quality,” he said.

As Quirk indicated, there is a chance that there will be an agreement to eliminate the gas-station portion of the project, which would also include several retail store and a restaurant.

“Any time that there is an opportunity for negotiation or compromise, we have to see it through — and that’s what this and we have to see it through,” Almond said after the vote. 

The site, formerly home to a fire station, also had interest from Harris Teeter and Whole Foods, though neither of those projects made it through the initial stages.

Rendering of proposed Harris Teeter with apartments

In a move that drew harsh rebuke from many residents and local officials, the county had 30 trees removed from the site in April with no advance notice, even though the Royal Farms project had not been approved and the site’s future use was not secured. In May, an attorney for the developer, Caves Valley Partners, said that an additional three dozen trees separating the site from the Immaculate Conception fields.

“A majority of the Council has sent a message that the County Executive can ignore our directives with no consequences, and that the wishes of one developer trump overwhelming opposition from the community,” Marks said in a statement after Monday’s vote. “This issue is not dead. It will continue through the next year, and I will do all in my power to help the community defeat this project.”

Marks also said in an interview after the vote that Caves Valley made it clear to him many times that it was the gas-station component that was the revenue driver.

“I would be surprised if [Caves Valley] agreed to remove this from the PUD,” Marks said.

Steve Sibel, a partner at Caves Valley, spoke to the council after the vote and thanked them for voting against a resolution that he said Marks was using “for personal political gain.” When he was challenged on some statements by Marks, Sibel responded: “That’s a very fine fairy tale you’ve spun there, Councilman.” (See video below.)

“When thinking of Steve Sibel’s remarks, two words come to mind: no class,” Marks said later. “He is the schoolyard bully who kicks someone when they are down. Caves Valley Partners has earned every bit of its reputation among many of my constituents.”

[Related: More trees to be felled for Towson Station; residents frustrated with lack of info]

In June, Marks said he was withdrawing support for the Royal Farms because of:

David Marks

“Lack of Public Support.  The original Planned Unit Development legislation, sponsored by then-County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, emphasizes public input and collaboration.  An overwhelming number of residents do not want this project to be built.  How can its advocates claim with any credibility that this project meets a minimum of community support?

Violation of Council Resolution 113-16.  Earlier this spring, the executive branch of government removed approximately 30 mature trees, with no public notice and in violation of clear direction from the County Council.  The removal of the trees eliminated a major hurdle for the developer, whose attorney later said that even more trees will be destroyed should the project be approved.

Delayed Improvements to Bosley Avenue.  The driving conditions on Bosley Avenue are a nightmare, yet when I asked the Deputy County Administrative Officer about plans to resurface the corridor, his response was that improvements would occur after Towson Station was finished.  Given the likelihood of appeals, this means that Bosley Avenue will continue to deteriorate for at least two or three years.

Our transportation network is key to redevelopment in Downtown Towson.  The continued collapse of Bosley Avenue will be a drag on all future growth—as well as the quality of life of established businesses and neighborhoods.

Long-Term Litigation.  The contract of sale for this property requires approval of the Planned Unit Development by next year.  That is highly unlikely. Towson Station is a lower-quality, and more controversial, project than other Planned Unit Developments that have been proposed in Towson.  This project will be fought long and hard.  Neighborhood associations should not have to exhaust tens of thousands of dollars opposing this project, and Baltimore County should not have to deal with the uncertainty of waiting years to receive profits from the sale of this land.

The County Executive was right in 2013 when he argued that the county property at York Road and Bosley Avenue was not being utilized for its highest and best use.  But he was also right when, as a Councilman, he proposed the Planned Unit Development law that encourages high-quality developments with broad public support.

It is time to turn the page on the Royal Farms gasoline station.”

[Related: Opponents of Royal Farms tell county council “we are not going to give up”]

In June, Councilwoman Almond said she was undecided on how she would vote on the issue. While the project is not in her district, she does represent a large portion of Towson. She is also expected to run for County Executive in the next election. (State Sen. Jim Brochin, who is also expected to run for County Executive, said he was strongly opposed to the Royal Farms project.)

“Based on how many times Councilman Marks has changed his mind on this project,” Almond said in June, “I am waiting until August to see what the Council will actually be voting on.”

Marks said Monday night that he doesn’t feel that introducing the PUD in the first place was an error.

“I firmly believe that if the review of the PUD had not started, then Towson would not have received money in the budget for things like water improvement in Campus Hills and flooding remediation in Stoneleigh,” Marks said, referencing what he had earlier said were threats by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’ office to slash monies in Towson if the PUD didn’t move forward.

“The county executive holds all the cards,” Marks said. “And I don’t feel like I made a mistake; the four Democrats on the council are the ones who made the mistake.”

 RELATED: 

Opponents of Royal Farms tell county council “we are not going to give up”

Residents outraged as county clears 30 trees at old fire station

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15 Comments on "Caves Valley wins over County Council; Royal Farms development will advance"

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Roger

Quirk owns this now.

Grace Connolly

This development does not need another gas station in this corridor!

Towson Mom

I’m disappointed that David Marks hasn’t taken responsibility for introducing the PUD over community objection in the first place. As I read it, he claims (and I think his claims are dubious) that Stoneleigh and Campus Hills wouldn’t haven’t gotten funding for projects if he hadn’t introduced this. So he picked these neighborhoods over the concerns of West Towson? How can he still stand by his decision? Now he just deflects and blames.

Ron Gallop

Great article as always, Ms. Henry. Thorough, balanced, and very informative. Thank you for keeping Towson up to speed on this potent issue!

Towson resident/taxpayer/voter
Towson resident/taxpayer/voter

I 100% agree! Thank you for staying on top this story.

JCS

Yes! Well said. Local news is more important than ever, and the Flyer does a terrific job. And the kicker to this story: the majority of the Baltimore County Council is prioritizing a revenue stream to developers et al over fiscally responsible commercial tax-revenues from publicly owned land–for a project the community has vociferously opposed. So who is being served?

If this goes through as designed, the paltry $26,000 annual in tax revenue, which Towson ‘Station’ would bring to county coffers long-term, is a bad move. A gas station within 500 feet of a school is a terrible idea. Light pollution, 24-hour-enabled crime, and non-walkability are detrimental to the area’s future. I’m all for reinvigorating this site, but let’s make sense. Why keep going down a bad road?

This is public land put up for sale, and one has to wonder about all the questionable costs taxpayers are being saddled with to serve and “accelerate” this particular deal–controversial tree removal, building demolition, related land purchases, cost of moving county services, likely litigation because of county missteps, among numerous issues detailed recently by another Flyer article.

Dig deep, and it seems we are finding much more underneath this debacle than stubborn bedrock or a 10,0000-gallon fuel tank leaking all sorts of foul stuff into the Towson community.

Anneslie Resident

This move is an outrage. Mr. Sibel accused Councilman Marks of spinning a “nice little fairy tale” in an exchange after the meeting. The real fairy tale here is that Councilman Quirk supposedly took it upon himself to partake in back room “negotiations” over the weekend involving the developer and the County Executive but NO ONE from the community, then he and the other democrats used this as an excuse to table to Resolution 68-17. What did they decide in that meeting? We don’t know. How can he say “all parties are looking for a win-win solution” when the third party he refers to was not represented? This is the purpose of the Community Input meeting – a public forum that is transparent to “all parties” where community concerns can be resolved. This was all a set-up. Last week in conversations with Councilwoman Almond’s aide I was told she was not going to make a decision because “something” might develop over the weekend. Why make the community go through the farce of a County Council work-session when you already know you are planning to table to Resolution? Anyone with an iota of intelligence can see through your little charade Councilpersons Quirk, Almond, Jones and Bevins.

Towson resident/taxpayer/voter
Towson resident/taxpayer/voter

Don’t worry, Towson. Years of litigation will ensue and this property will become a big liability and tax-dollar drain like 101 York. When a handful of Towson residents don’t like something, they’ll sue to high heaven to ruin it for everyone else. The Towson Way! The only person making money on this land is the guy who gets to sell some of that nice chain-link fencing that is so commonplace and permanent on prime real estate throughout Towson.

Worried about Bosley Road falling apart? Hope you see the irony of a crumbling road that is the key connection between 101 York and Towson Station. Sue, sue, sue! The Towson Way!

Elected officials are making decisions. Elect stronger people, or people who share your interests, in November. Marks runs unopposed. You can’t cry foul after decades of being apathetic come election time. Don’t rely on witch hunts and hate rallies to make noise. Be involved early and often. Most of the 60,000+ residents don’t agree with the witch hunts or simply don’t care.

What’s next on the obstruction train? The Towson Circle project?

Ron Gallop

What makes you think you speak for a majority of people in Towson? 17 people spoke in favor of the resolution (to get rid of the gas station), 0 community members spoke in favor of it.

Are we not supposed to speak our mind and make a case for what we believe in? Do you think the hundreds of people who have attend so many meetings to protest were there by force? Is it even possible, in your mind, that we sincerely don’t want gas in our town and have the right to express that?

If you disagree with our position, that’s fine. But I’m really tired of people who suggest that we are simply “obstructionists” or on a “witch hunt.”

We have said from the beginning that all we oppose is the gas station; I believe we have the right to oppose it and to do so with vigor with all legal means. If you disagree with that, I’m not sure you comprehend how a democracy is supposed to work. We do not oppose Royal Farms (without the gas station) nor have we stated opposition to any other type of development.

Please disagree respectfully, and stop suggesting that the hundreds and perhaps thousands who feel strongly about this issue do so for any reason other than WE DON’T WANT A 12-PUMP GAS STATION. We are so entitled.

Towson resident/taxpayer/voter
Towson resident/taxpayer/voter
This was not a community input meeting. People booed and hissed at an opposing view and celebrated only one view point. A few residents have created a moral panic without for one second looking in the mirror to ask, “why would a business invest millions to put a gas station in this location?” Answer: look at the consumer behavior in West Towson! This is quite simply elementary market research. So, 17 people represent Towson? 17 out of over 60,000? I can find 40 parents that don’t like my local elementary school. Should we shut it down if they yell the loudest? What I do know is that our elected officials are selected based on a majority of votes. They make decisions on our behalf. They can’t please everyone all the time and it’s foolish to even consider that everyone will always be pleased. What makes you think you speak for 30,000+ residents, or whatever majority you have in mind? Better off trying to find an electable candidate who represents Towson’s greater interests and won’t flip-flop when a few people get upset. Marks played a major role in this disaster. Look at what a mess Towson has become under his watch, during a period of incredible economic growth in the region. The individuals who are having their lives turned upside down by a business placing a gas station next to another gas station/prison/car lot/tow yard/church/salt dome should pool their money and buy the property. You can do as you please, well… Read more »
Ron Gallop

Well, nameless person, you’ve said this: “What I can’t accept is another fenced off piece of prime real estate and a precedent of a few offended people killing the local economy.”

If you read what I wrote, I said we do not suggest to fence off prime real estate. But you don’t wish to comprehend that.

And again, you suggest it’s “a few people” who are apparently troublemakers because they dare to protest and to use the process that is in place for community input.

(1) As I’ve shown, it’s not a few people, and:

(2) You either do not understand or accept democracy.

You yourself said you don’t want a gas station there, yet you find it appalling that the hundreds who have been at each meeting and many more who are with us in spirit are actually putting up a battle for that.

That’s beyond disagreement. But you can’t accept that, either. Good day, whoever you are.

Towson resident/taxpayer/voter
Towson resident/taxpayer/voter

Ron,

I’m not sure what “That’s beyond disagreement” means.
You and I have no relationship, so whatever your implying as a step beyond disagreeing online is odd, concerning, and seemingly misplaced anger.
You’re not thinking clearly. I’ll allow years of litigation to calm you down. Sue your way to the top, Ron. Teach them a lesson!

-Nameless Person

Looking for balance

No one wants sue; why would concerned residents have fought so hard via all democratic means available? A judge will review this project as part of the PUD process. If the county government violates its own rules or even laws, or the buyers don’t meet requirements, there is a legal process as well.

But why waste all this time throwing around unnecessary money and harsh language? Everyone should work together to make something positive happen here. Common sense trounces much of what has happened so far. The large gas station proposed would be even closer, less that 350-feet from a field where children run and play. And then the developer threatens to chop down a wall of buffer trees as well?

Let’s not make a mediocre scene at this corner much worse. (And kudos to those spending so much time voicing concerns about the gas station the commenter agrees is not a good idea there in the first place).

I’m pro-business, but also have my doubts about the character of a developer or its representative that calls a verified, factual summary of problematic issues a “fairy tale.”

Let’s step up and be grown ups and do something truly positive for downtown Towson and its neighborhoods that most everyone can support for the longterm.

Looking for Balance

That should read ‘no one wants to sue’…the type is so small on these comments. Here’s hoping the hearts of our leaders won’t prove smaller in the end.

Stunned and saddened
Wow, what a mess! It seems the majority of the council was so afraid to be accused of so-called “flip-flopping” that they just flopped. Most people want better development at this site, but this project is an unmitigated disaster. And the fact remains that the PUD process, which was required before allowing the Royal Farms gas station, has been compromised on many fronts since it was introduced in December–including the not-yet-prosecuted violation of a county council’s own resolution and forestry law regarding protection of those trees; the revelation of a 10,000-gallon underground abandoned fuel tank that was not disclosed when reported to developers as far back as 2014; and a May community input meeting, required under the process, that revealed the developers’ clear disregard for residents’ legitimate concerns about the 24-hour status and newly revealed plans to destroy buffer trees between the gas station and the school next-door. A school btw fewer than 500 yards from gas pumps, contrary to EPA guidelines regarding safe distance for children, as critics point out, not that our county leaders seem to care unfortunately. Such violations of trust, as well as the protocols, intent, and stipulations of the PUD process, are clearly just cause for litigation on this matter. There are reasons current zoning does not allow a gas station there. What do all these local laws and downtown development master plans even mean if they’re just tossed aside or violated? I have nothing against the developer per se, but can’t Caves Valley pursue… Read more »