Factions lay out ways for improving Towson

October 01, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Control of Towson, Baltimore County's seat of government, is divided among several sometimes hostile factions. But a group of civic and government leaders wants to change that.

Towson Partnership Inc., a combination of older business and residential groups bolstered by county government, ended a three-day conference yesterday as part of a plan to unify the factions and help improve the old Towson business district.

Participants agreed that Towson could be friendlier place for pedestrians and parked vehicles and that it needs more entertainment and "infotainment" businesses such as the Borders bookstore in Towson Commons, less vehicular traffic and easier access to liquor licenses for upscale restaurants and cafes.

The group said Towson also needs marketing events to draw families to the area, downtown Baltimore-style street uniformed "guides" to enhance security, more green space and general sprucing up.

Currently, in the center of Towson, multimillion-dollar projects such as Towson Commons and the Towsontown Center mall exist alongside empty storefronts, the vacant Hutzler's building and boarded-up gas stations and movie theaters.

The county has no incorporated towns within its 610 square miles, so state and county governments divide the authority for the county seat, with business and community groups pushing their own agendas.

When the factions disagree, concrete traffic barriers have been known to appear, then disappear from busy York Road. Even routine changes sometimes produce anguish. For example, motorists who linger too long in a Towson restaurant or store lately are likely to find one of the county's new private parking enforcement agents slipping a ticket under the windshield wiper.

"I bought one of those $18 bagels a couple weeks ago," Adam Wasserman, deputy director of the county Economic Development Commission, said yesterday.

At the end of the conference, the partnership announced a new effort to form a coalition to plan ways of helping preserve and strengthen Towson.

"We have moved beyond our vision to how we're going to do it," Towson Councilman Douglas B. Riley said at a news conference.

To refine its ideas, the group recommended parallel, 90-day studies by county and private task forces, followed by the development of a plan for governing and managing Towson.

Mr. Riley said the missing element in the partnership is state government. Officials hope that involvement will come in the future, he said.

The state controls York Road and liquor licensing laws. County government control is split among the executive, the local County Council member and the bureaucracy, all headquartered in the county's most concentrated urban center.

The rest is left to business and community organizations.

Mr. Riley knows better than most the problems the division of authority can cause. It was his idea to block traffic on southbound York Road at Joppa Road to aid pedestrians. But local state legislators had the barriers abruptly removed to accommodate business owners who complained. Disagreements between the county and state over control of Towson liquor licenses are legend.

The partnership conference, which cost $10,000 to stage, brought business, government and residential groups together with officials from similar downtown-oriented planning groups from Bethesda and Bellevue, Wash. More than 150 people attended the three-day event.

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