Make-over of Towson in jeopardy County officials scramble for backing of property owners

9 more endorsements needed

Streetscape plan is to coincide with traffic circle

July 25, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

A $2.5 million make-over of Towson's business district could be in trouble.

With a key deadline just a week away, Baltimore County officials are scrambling to obtain the endorsement of property owners who would have to help finance the brick sidewalks, benches and greenery designed to give the district a new look.

County officials remain optimistic that the project -- planned for when a traffic roundabout is to be built on the north end of town -- will not be delayed.

But the officials will not disclose how many property owners support the project. The county needs approval from two-thirds, or about 30, of the 46 affected property owners on York Road and nearby streets before the project can go forward. Yesterday, a Towson Business Association official reported at a monthly meeting that about 21 owners have consented.

For years, the county has looked forward to the improvements as a way to boost business and improve the town's image. "We believe there will be a true relationship between streetscape and an increase in business and activities in Towson," said Steve Lafferty, manager of neighborhood revitalization for the Office of Community Conservation.

Said another proponent, Norman Bodarky, whose family has owned Towson Artists Supply on York Road for 41 years, "Upgrading would be an improvement. It's rundown and shabby."

But some property owners object to elements of the design, and to a new tax assessment based on street frontage.

The county is scrambling to meet an Aug. 1 deadline for approvals. If the deadline passes, the plan to spruce up the district will be delayed and split from the State Highway Administration's planned traffic roundabout.

"We did not want to have two different projects," Lafferty said. Planners hoped to proceed with both projects simultaneously to minimize disruption along busy York Road.

The roundabout, at the congested intersection of Allegheny Avenue and York, Dulaney Valley and Joppa roads, will continue as planned, an SHA spokeswoman said.

Some business owners worry about what will happen if the streetscape project is halted.

"I'm just hoping it does [proceed]. I've seen the area improve and improve and improve, but somehow it never took off," said Joe Varvaro, who has owned Angel's Grotto on York Road, one of Towson's oldest taverns, for 28 years. "Anything done to improve and enhance the area will make the value of the properties better."

But others aren't convinced of the project's merits.

"What's there does the job," said longtime real estate broker LeRoy Y. Haile Jr., whose family's 73-year-old real estate agency is located on Chesapeake Avenue.

He also raised concerns about the brick sidewalks. "I feel like it's going to be more difficult to take care of. When they need maintenance, they can present a hazard. It's hard enough to maintain concrete sidewalks."

Work on the roundabout and the streetscape is scheduled to begin in October with the replacement of a 100-year-old water main. Bids for the projects were advertised this month. State and county officials hope to select a contractor by next month.

"I remain optimistic," Lafferty said, referring to the approvals needed from property owners. "I have been told by people that the papers are essentially signed. If they all come back, we will make the number with no problem at all."

If the county receives approval from two-thirds of the property owners in the improvement area, all property owners in the area would be assessed to help pay for the project.

Rather than pay the assessment in taxes, business owners would have the option of applying the amount they are assessed toward renovations for building exteriors, with the aid of interest-free county loans and free architectural services.

Varvaro plans to change his building's wood facade. "Why give $5,000 in taxes when I can put it on the the front of my place and enhance the front of my building?" he said. "If you have good businesses up and down the street and a pretty streetscape, you will have people walking the street. If you don't, they won't venture here."

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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