Updated at 4:10 pm County Executive Kevin Kamenetz' office said Friday that he has "persuaded"…
After years of fighting, community leaders and developers have signed an agreement that allows the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue to be developed without a gas station.
And although the two sides have reached an agreement on the future of the old fire station property, there are still many variables — including a lower purchase price — that could derail the negotiated plan.
The agreement, signed by representatives of Caves Valley Partners and the Greater Towson Committee of Community Associations earlier this month, has wording that:
*One version of the agreement would have prohibited virtually all fast-food chains, including Chick-fil-A, but the developers struck that restaurant from the list.
“I think where we are today is where we could have been four years ago if Baltimore County’s government hadn’t acted irresponsibly in allowing the [gas station project] to be weaponized against the community as it has been for the last four years,” said West Towson resident Ron Council, who helped negotiate the agreement on behalf of the GTCCA.
“It would have saved volunteers thousands of hours of time that they could have spent on something else, and we wouldn’t have had an undeveloped piece of land sitting on the corner of York and Bosley.”
Some in the community had hoped that Caves Valley would not only remove the gas station from the plan, but would also revise the overall project to make it adhere to Towson’s Overlay District, which calls for, among other things, buildings that have easy pedestrian access instead of being set behind large parking lots.
In fact, one of the community members who participated in some of the negotiations, Beth Miller, is an architect, and she presented an alternate site plan for the developer’s consideration. It provided the same amount of retail space, but included a terraced plaza, parking above retail shops — similar to Belvedere Square — and a more pedestrian-friendly entrance.
“We envisioned a development that would welcome visitors to Towson and to which hundreds of people in nearby homes and apartments would walk. Unfortunately, the developer was not open to this kind of partnership with the community,” Miller said in an email.
“We were told the existing tenant leases precluded any substantive changes to the design. The developer cited commercial viability as dependent on the layout of the parking lot and need for drive thru lanes rather than [Towson] Master Plan goals and design guidelines in the Zoning Overlay for walkability and urban design.”
Instead of a gas station, the developer will seek to have a drive-through bank occupy the site, according to people familiar with the talks. If that is not successful, they said, Caves Valley will likely pursue the Chick-fil-A option.
Additionally, those familiar with the talks say that Caves Valley is in negotiations with the county to lower the purchase price.
Caves Valley had originally offered $8.3 million for the 5-acre property after two independent appraisals commissioned by the county valued the land at $8.6 million and $6.2 million, respectively.
But, people familiar with the talks say, Caves Valley has said in recent months that it might lower its offer by several million dollars — maybe even by nearly half — now that a gas station is not part of the project. The appraisals, however, were done prior to gas being allowed on the site. The GTCCA is not part of the price negotiations.
Caves Valley officials did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for Kamenetz said he has not yet heard from the community about the agreement.*
In addition to the question of price, there are several more layers of approval that Caves Valley needs from the county, and if those are not forthcoming, the developer still has the right to pursue the gas station as a Planned Unit Development (PUD). PUDs are a way of allowing land to be used for something not normally allowed under the zoning rules.
Caves Valley is allowed to revert back to its planned 24-hour Royal Farms gas station PUD, per the agreement, if any of the following occur:
That means that if the county and Caves Valley don’t reach an agreement on price within the next couple of months, the developer could go back to its plan to build a Royal Farms.
If Caves Valley does go back to its gas-station plan, the GTCCA still has the right to fight it, according to the agreement.
The controversy dates back to 2012 when County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced he was selling off three parcels of county-owned land largely for the purpose of raising money to provide air conditioning for public schools. One of those properties was the Towson fire station at York Road and Bosley Avenue.
“The goal here is to fund additional money for additional school renovation projects without raising taxes. … And by selling the three different property sites or at least offering them up for sale, we can put those properties back on the property tax rolls generating property taxes and create new jobs based on the businesses that would occupy those sites,” Kamenetz told WBAL radio in December 2012.
“… In the central corridor we’re talking about replacing a fire station that was built in 1958 and we need to modernize that. We previously had funding in place for that but we pulled that so we could promote additions at other area elementary schools,” Kamenetz said. “So the goal here is to put that property up for sale and if we generate the right price, we can get a brand-new fire station on another county-owned parcel of land and additional profits to hopefully air condition Dumbarton Middle School.”
The new fire station, which is now at Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard, cost $7.6 million to build, and it is not clear if that includes the more than $800,000 the county spent to buy a home adjacent to the site. It also does not include the still-unknown cost to move the salt dome from the site, as well as the cost to move the highway-maintenance vehicles that are stored there.
Because the zoning did not allow for a gas station, in December 2016, County Councilman David Marks submitted a PUD proposal that would allow gas. While that was still under review, the county razed a building on the site — even though it was to be sold as-is — and chopped down 30 trees, which violated a council resolution. Kamenetz’ chief of staff, Fred Homan, said the building and trees were taken down to speed up the sale of the land.
“The county built a new fire station, very much in accordance with what the community asked for, and now needs to get the settlement on that property so the county can receive the $8 million sale price,” Homan said at an April 2017 council meeting. “The county needs the cash from the sale of the property. So the county is trying to accelerate the close of the property. That’s what going on at this point in time.”
Marks later submitted legislation revoking the PUD — and effectively killing the gas station — but it was tabled along a party-line vote in August 2017, allowing the PUD to move forward. A few days later, Kamenetz said Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, would oversee negotiations between Caves Valley and the community to find a solution that did not involve a gas station.
Quirk said today that a formal announcement of the agreement would be coming in the near future.
“I’m very pleased that Caves Valley and the community were able to come to a mutually acceptable solution,” he said. “We’ll have more information soon.”
Groups that advocate on behalf of businesses were also happy to hear that an agreement had been reached.
“There are a lot of very positive things going on in Towson, and I think we want to continue focusing on our strengths and work peacefully and reasonably where we need to work things out,” said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.
Katie Chasney Pinheiro, executive director of the Greater Towson Committee, echoed that sentiment.
“The Greater Towson Committee supported the original plan with a gas station — we thought that was an appropriate use of the land — and we still continue to support Caves Valley’s development of this eyesore,” Chasney Pinheiro said. “So we love that it’s moving forward.”
Councilman Marks, who was not involved in the negotiations between Caves Valley and the GTCCA despite the fact that he reprsents Towson, said it’s time to move past this controversy.
“Redevelopment of the old Towson firehouse property was well-intentioned, but at the end of this five-year drama, it is difficult to excuse the missteps brought about by the County Executive’s senior staff. Over the past five years, the County Executive’s senior staff demonstrated a ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approach,” Marks said in an email.
“I look forward to reviewing the details of the new contract, but it is time to move on. The retail part of Towson Gateway was never controversial. The restaurants at Towson City Center —another Caves Valley Partners project—are popular and exciting,” Marks said, referring to Cunningham’s restaurant and cafe.
“Over time, the site will generate more tax revenue than an unused county property,” Marks said. “But Baltimore County — with a new Executive — should create a different, more collaborative model for redeveloping government-owned land in the future.”
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