Towson is growing, but not without some problems

By: Cody Boteler, Editor-in-Chief

Towson is growing. It’s shedding the label of “Baltimore suburb” and becoming an urban area in its own right.

Most students are only in the area for four, maybe five, years, and may not perceive the long term trends. But, to those who have lived and worked in the area longer, it feels like Towson is in a period of renewal.

“When I was elected, we had wide stretches of Towson where there was broad decay,” Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, whose district includes Towson, said in an email. “Those areas have been largely redeveloped.”

Marks, who has just about always lived in the county, was first elected to the County Council in 2010. He listed areas around Towson – like Towson Circle and Towson Commons – that were starting to fail just a few years ago.

“Today, many of these areas are on the rebound,” he said.

Additional housing in the urban center of Towson marks one of the most substantial changes residents will see in the coming years.

Parts of Towson Circle, for example, where the Trader Joe’s and Barnes & Noble currently are, will be redeveloped with apartments under current plans.  (Don’t worry, the Trader Joe’s is reopening in Kenilworth Friday, March 17. That’s this week!)

Newly-built townhomes at Towson Mews are up for sale, and the Flats at 703 will be leasing soon. That’s a lot of room for a lot more people to live in central Towson.

“That’s what’s changed us from the suburbs 20 years ago to an urban environment,” Executive Director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce Nancy Hafford said.

Hafford added that, not that long ago, Towson was “dead” after 5 p.m. and on weekends – except for much later at night, when students from Towson and other nearby schools would make their way to the bars.

But now, “when you go out, you just see a real blend of people, which makes our community interesting,” Hafford said.

Towson Commons, at the corner of York and West Pennsylvania, is anchored by an LA Fitness and a CVS. Other retailers have already moved in, and they’ll soon be joined by a Chipotle and Brown Rice, a Korean-style restaurant.

The growth and redevelopment doesn’t come without problems, however.

Towson residents complaining about traffic on York Road are just as commonplace as Towson University students complaining about parking. Some worry that more people living in central Towson will bring more cars, and more congestion, with them.

“The one thing I’m most concerned about is transportation,” Paul Hartman, former president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations said. Hartman is still an active member and co-chair of the GTCCA University Relations Committee.

Hartman cited the intersection of York and Bosley as especially egregious. That intersection is designated as “failing” by the Baltimore County Bureau of Traffic Engineering and Transportation.

Marks, too, expressed concern about transportation in the core area of Towson.

“A Towson circulator is needed to improve mobility, and we can always work to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections,” Marks said.

The Maryland Transit Administration services Towson with buses along a few routes. As it’s currently planned, the new BaltimoreLink bus system will service Towson when it launches this summer.

Another growing pain – a lack of greenery. Along the main York Road corridor, there isn’t any green space once you get north of Towson University’s campus.

“I’d like to see more open space, and that’s a complaint that a lot of folks have,” Hartman said. “All of these projects that are coming along, there’s no open space, there’s no green space really. We’d like to see more pocket parks.”

The County Council voted to buy unused property by Radebaugh Florist with plans to turn the plot of land into a pocket park. The Radebaugh family donated additional land to the future park, according to the Baltimore Sun. Radebaugh sits about a quarter mile from York Road.

And Patriot Plaza, the concrete park between the circuit court building and the historic courthouse, will be supplanted with greenery by 2018.

At Towson Row,  a “site debut” ceremony in 2015 was supposed to mark the start of construction on the high-density, mixed-use development project between Towsontown Boulevard and Chesapeake Avenue.

As planned, the site would bring student housing, luxury apartments, a Whole Foods, a hotel and other retailers. However, ever since the debut, the area has been fenced off and left empty. Buildings were torn down and Hartmann described the site as “a pile of rubble.”

A giant rock under the surface interrupted construction, because so much of the plan relied on building an underground parking structure. The latest reports indicate that Caves Valley Partners, the firm behind the site, is reconfiguring the plan to mesh with the geological obstruction.

According to Arthur Adler, a partner at CVP, there is “no new information to be released.”

“The developer has not provided me with any additional updates,” Marks said. “I am disappointed and frustrate[ed] by the delays in this project and the impact these delays have had on Downtown Towson.”

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