Updated at 4:10 pm
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’ office said Friday that he has “persuaded” the developer of a controversial Royal Farms in Towson to “consider a change in the proposed project that would eliminate the gas station component of the development plan.”
His statement came days after the County Council tabled a resolution from Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, that would have prevented gas pumps from going in at the York Road and Bosley Avenue 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 said Monday when he made the motion to table the bill.
Quirk, who represents the Catonsville, said in an interview Friday that Marks refused to meet with Caves Valley or its land-use attorney in the weeks leading up to the vote.
“The whole process has been mismanaged. The fact of the matter is, when you negotiate, even if you’re upset with one of the parties, you still need to talk to both of the parties,” Quirk said. “My role is to be transparent, to make sure the negotiation is restarted, and look at all the options and find a more workable plan. I’m coming in from the outside, so I don’t have have all the battle wounds that both sides have.”
Marks said his aide has no record of calls from Caves Valley or its attorney in the weeks prior to the vote.
“Ask anyone from the community who was involved in the meetings last fall — ask them how Caves Valley talked to the community. They were really belligerent and they were never interested in removing the gas station,” he said.
Marks added that “if anyone mismanaged this process it was the County Executive’s office. I set very clear restrictions on the project that were ignored by the County Executive’s office.”
Despite the new talk of coming to a mutually acceptable deal, Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for Kamenetz, said it would be premature to assume there will not ultimately be a gas station at the site.
“Hopefully [Caves Valley and gas station opponents] can work something out that will be beneficial to the community,” Cohen said. “But that discussion is what will be happening.”
Caves Valley has already met with Towson residents as part of a required community-input meeting, during which many residents were frustrated by the developer’s lack of communication.
“Save Towson’s Gateway is cautiously optimistic that the true potential of this public land can be realized,” said Beth Miller, one of the leaders of the group opposing the gas station.
Kamenetz’ statement said he has asked Quirk to “assist in the mediation discussion between the developer and the community [with] a deadline of 30 days to pursue the mediation.” It also said that Caves Valley will likely reduce the amount it will offer for the site if it can’t have gas pumps. Its current offer for the land is $8.3 million.
The negotiation has not yet been scheduled, Cohen said. Ultimately the County Council would need to approve a revised contract.
“I am happy that the County Executive has changed his position in response to the Towson community, Senator [Jim] Brochin, and me,” Marks said in a phone call Friday. “Make no mistake about it, this was driven by the re-examination of the project that our office initiated. Councilman Quirk is a friend and I look forward to working with him on options for the property.”
The Royal Farms project is different than most commercial real estate deals in the county because in this case, a developer wants to put a gas station in an area in which zoning does not allow a gas station. To get around zoning laws, a developer can utilize a Planned Unit Development, or PUD.
PUDs must provide a community benefit — although the law does not specify that the project itself must provide a benefit; instead, a developer can offer other unrelated “benefits” to the community. In this case, Caves Valley said it would donate $50,000 for trail improvements, some tree plantings and two speed signs for Towson neighborhoods.