Towson Residents Cry Foul at Developers
From Olympian Park, a small “pocket park” off Towson Circle that honors Baltimore County’s Olympic athletes, Mike Ertel can point out the developments that are coming to downtown Towson.
In one direction, there’s an apartment building with around 100 units; in another, a building with about 400 units. And then there’s the big one.
"A couple of blocks away, beyond the L.A. Fitness they’re going to build Towson Row, which will have, I believe, about 600 units," says Ertel, president of the Greater Towson Council, which is made up of more than 30 neighborhood associations.
"We’re adding all these people, yet we don’t have anywhere for them to escape to," he says. "And we’re putting them up in these concrete towers with no real places to go."
Towson residents say they don’t have enough parks and fields to handle a growing population, and the facilities they do have are in terrible shape. The residents say developers aren’t paying enough to make sure people have room to breathe.So Ertel and others want the developers to pay an open space fee if their projects don’t provide adequate green space. That money would be put towards things like athletic fields, parks and trails.
But here’s the rub. Fifteen years ago, the county all but waived open space fees in Towson to try to entice developers to build there. Now the developers are coming and the green space is going. And the remaining fields are getting a lot of use.
On a recent Saturday, seven-year-old-boys were playing lacrosse on the field at Dumbarton Middle School. They’re in a program run by the Towson Recreation Council. Janine Schofield, the council president, whose son was one of those players, says the field is worn out from over use.
"It needs a season off," she says. "It needs to be re-graded, re-sodded, aerated. It’s a dust bowl."
The recreation council says the county is losing millions of dollars in open space fees that developers aren’t paying because of the waiver. That’s money that could be used to renovate existing fields, purchase new property, and help with costs when the council has to rent fields for games.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, however, wants the open space fee waiver to stay as is. The county planning board recently took a look at it and decided to punt the issue to the County Council with no recommendation.
Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, says developers need to pony up more for open space. But, he adds, the county has to find the sweet spot.
"You can’t raise the fee so high that they kill smaller projects in particular," he says. "If you don’t get a project, you don’t get an open space fee. It’s finding that right amount that we’re going to be looking at."
Cave Valley Partners, the developer of the $350 million Towson Row project, says it will voluntarily give $200,000 to the county to help pay for open space projects. It’s part of a four million dollar open space program Kamenetz unveiled last month. But Kevin Schwab with the Towson Recreation Council is unimpressed.
"Caves Valley, a multi-billion dollar development corporation is kicking in less than your local community soccer program," Schwab says. He says Caves Valley would have to pay about $3.4 million in open space fees if there were no waiver.
Caves Valley turned down a request for an interview, as did Kamenetz and county planning director Andrea Van Arsdale. The open space waiver issue goes to a public hearing before the County Council June 1. Opponents of the waiver are promising to pack the house.