By Jordan Kendall
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The developer of the proposed Red Maple Place project planned for East Towson voiced her opposition to a bill before the Baltimore County Council that is designed to make the proposed 56-unit affordable housing complex more appealing to residents of the area.
Dana Johnson, the president of Homes for America, a nonprofit that develops and preserves affordable rental housing, said Tuesday that the bill proposed by Councilmember David Marks, R-5th District, that sets a maximum height of 30 feet for any multifamily building located within 500 feet of Downtown Towson would make it impossible to complete the development.
Johnson said this is because Homes for America has received money from the state that prevents them from making changes to the project.
“It would effectively kill the project after two-plus years of work,” Johnson told the council during its work session yesterday. “Red Maple will be an asset to Towson and the community as a whole.”
Homes for America has threatened legal action if the bill passes. The council is scheduled to vote on the bill next Monday. If approved, it will take effect on Nov. 30.
Marks said that he wants to reduce the size of the project to meet the demands of residents in the area who have opposed Red Maple since it was first proposed in 2018. He said his bill would decrease the size but still benefit Baltimore County.
“This project will stand for decades if it’s built,” Marks said during the meeting. “It’s important to build it right. I certainly share the community’s concern of the scale of this project.”
County Council Chair Cathy Bevins, D-6th District, said that unlike the other projects built by Homes for America, the Red Maple development would be strictly a rental property. At other Homes for America projects the renter can put money into the building for 15 years and eventually get the chance to buy it.
Maryland Sen. Chris West, R-Towson, said the community is not in favor of the bill.
“I’ve not spoken with a single resident of East Towson who’s in favor of the project,” West said. “East Towson is a historic African-American neighborhood. The community would be willing to accept the project if it were downsized, but the developers haven’t sat down with the leaders of the East Towson community.”
Many East Towson residents are descendants of freed slaves who founded the community in the 1850s. They are worried that the history of the area will disappear if the land continues to be used for development.
Residents of the area also argued that the project would increase traffic on local roads and increase students in public schools already beyond full capacity. The residents have said they don’t oppose affordable housing but worry that Red Maple will bring in temporary residents who aren’t committed to staying in the neighborhood long-term.
While many residents are against Red Maple, there are some who see the benefits of additional housing opportunities.
Michelle Yendell, a resident of East Towson, said the bill could lead to economic growth for the people of Baltimore County.
“As you know home ownership is the only way we move up the economic food chain,” Yendell said. “We have no complaint of affordable housing. We are affordable housing.”
Hendley Williams, an employee of a nonprofit organization that provides services to people with disabilities, said her group appreciated that Red Maple would introduce three wheelchair accessible buildings to Baltimore County. She said these buildings would be beneficial to those in the disabled community.
“These individuals are approaching us to find help, but it’s not always help that’s easy to get,” said Williams, who works at The Image Center. “These individuals are often homeless living in their cars – sometimes checking into hospitals just for a place to stay. They deserve a clean place to live.”
The council also considered a bill proposed by Bevins that would update provisions involving public events.
The bill primarily focuses on parades and introduces new requirements to obtain a parade permit. The discussion focused more on carnivals, which are also included in the bill.
Councilmember Todd K. Crandell, R-7th District, voiced his concerns about the bill.
“Events like the Dundalk Heritage Fair, where rides are leased, they would fall under the definition of carnival. So, in my district alone we have a lot of events that would fall under the provision of this bill,” Crandell said. “I’ve asked for a legal opinion on this bill. If the goal is to regulate carnivals at malls let’s regulate that.”
The council will also vote on this bill on Monday. If passed it will take effect 45 days after enactment.