Proposed Towson development comes under fire from citizens at county work session

By Amy Phillips and Kevin McGuire
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers

Over 100 Baltimore County residents showed up in force on Monday to urge the County Council not to provide $43 million in financial assistance to developers proposing to build a 1.2-million-square-foot mixed-use complex in downtown Towson.

Residents argued that the tax credits and grant the county would give to the Towson Row project would amount to a giveaway to rich developers at the expense of taxpayers. They said the money would be better spent on other projects and areas of the county that are not as well off as Towson.

“Our parks are deteriorating and our schools are run down,” said Kathy Labuda, a long-time local resident. “You were all elected to do the work of the people, not developers and billionaires.”

But the developers argued that the project would bring jobs to the area and boost the local economy.

“This is going to change the landscape of Towson,” said Brian Gibbons, the CEO and chairman of Greenberg Gibbons, one of the project’s developers. “A rising tide lifts all ships, and this will rise the tide for Towson.”

Anirban Basu, an economist from the Sage Policy Group in Baltimore, testified to the economic boom that would result from the development.

“This market is starving for this [project],” Basu said. “It seems to me this [project] will be a great success.”

A group of local residents distributed ‘stop developer’ signs to attendees at today’s work session in attempt to put an end to the Towson Row project proposal.

A group of local residents distributed ‘stop developer’ signs to attendees at Monday’s work session in attempt to put an end to the Towson Row project proposal.

Developers Caves Valley Partners and Greenberg Gibbons want to build 250 luxury high-rise apartments, 300 high-rise student housing units, a hotel, 100,000 square feet of restaurants, retail and grocery stores, and 150,000 square feet of office space in downtown Towson.

The project, which has the support of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, would be built on five acres between York Road, Towsontown Boulevard, Washington Avenue and Chesapeake Avenue, according to Greenberg Gibbons website.

“To break it down…this is a big deal,” Councilman Julian Jones, Jr., D-4th District, said.

The $43 million in county aid would be a combination of funds from the present value of the Revitalization and High Performance Buildings County property tax credits, and an advance of hotel tax revenues anticipated over the next 30 years.

The money would be granted to Greenberg Gibbons, the company responsible for developments such as the Hunt Valley Towne Center, Foundry Row and Annapolis Towne Center.

However, the council and community were concerned about the possibility of Greenberg Gibbons going bankrupt during development. If this should happen, or if Towson Row is not as successful as predicted, the taxpayer money will go to waste, some residents said.

Council members were also concerned about the accelerated timeline, saying that the council has only had about one month to deliberate on this decision.

“I found out about this while driving back from Thanksgiving,” Councilman David Marks, R-5th District, said.  “I think this an injustice to the developer.  We need more than a month to deliberate on a $43 million decision.”

State Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, voiced his concern over where the money should be spent.

“Why should we be the ones to pay for [Towson Row]?” Brochin asked. “Our responsibility is to start off with the parts of the county that are not economically as privileged as Towson. That’s where our money needs to go.”

Larry Fogelson, a member of the Green Towson Alliance, said his group was concerned that Towson’s sewer system might not be adequate enough to handle a project of this size.

He said Towson Row would use the Towson Run interceptor, which flows into a single, 60-year-old sewer line under Lake Roland. Evidence collected from the Green Towson Alliance shows there is bacterial contamination in Lake Roland, and the county does not have plans to remediate this problem.

Fogelson asked, “If a new sewer line is indeed required to serve Towson Row, will Towson Row pay a fair share of the capital cost for its construction, or will this be an additional cost of the development that will be shifted to county residents and businesses?”

He said he is also concerned with how much additional money residents will have to pay because of this large-scale project.

“Residents will not only pay for the proposed subsidies, but will bear the burden of the costs of many additional public service needs generated by this development,” Fogelson said. “Everyone likes to tout the alleged benefits, but no one likes to calculate and show the true costs to our already overburdened county services.”

The work session concluded with additional members of the public voicing their opinions on the Towson Row proposal.

The council is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its next meeting on Dec. 18.

In other action:

  • Steve Walsh, the director of the Department of Public Works, spoke on a proposal to provide on-call snow removal and salt application to Baltimore County. This service would be contracted by C.L. Felts and Company, Inc. and run from Nov. 1 until April 30. The cost would not exceed $25,000, unless approved by the County Council. If approved, the contract is eligible to be renewed for nine additional years.

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