County land in Towson up for auction today

April 04, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

A slice of Baltimore County-owned land eyed for development in the heart of Towson is to be auctioned today.

The six-tenths-of-an-acre property, left over from the construction of Towsontown Boulevard, includes one of two historic railroad bridge abutments flanking York Road and a landscaped walking path.

Some community leaders are questioning the decision to sell, for the sake of development, open space at the entrance to Towson's downtown.

"We'd hate to see anything built there that could obstruct this gateway to Towson," said Ed Kilcullen, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.

A small flower garden and shrubbery have been planted on the sloping property near the stone abutments that once supported the Maryland and Pennsylvania - or "Ma and Pa" - Railroad bridge over York Road.

Wolfgang Oehme, the renowned landscape architect who created the gardens in front of the old courthouse, also put in some of the plants along the sidewalk that cuts through the property leading to the Towson library.

In June 2006, the Baltimore County Council voted to add the stone railroad bridge abutments to the county's list of protected historic structures.

One of the abutments is on library property. The other is on the parcel scheduled to be auctioned. A new owner would be prohibited from tearing down the bridge abutment.

The property must fetch at least $1.95 million at today's auction or the sale will require additional approval from the County Council, said Shirley Murphy, chief of the county's Bureau of Land Acquisition.

She said the county decided to declare the land left over from the construction of Towsontown Boulevard "surplus" and make it available through auction after being approached by a developer interested in buying a sliver of the property to build a residential and office tower near the cul-de-sac at West Susquehanna Ave.

The developer has not yet presented preliminary plans to the county, officials said. But the project would be across Washington Avenue from the Palisades of Towson, a 15-story apartment-and-office complex planned by Southern Management Corp. at Courtland and Susquehanna avenues in Towson.

The sign advertising the auction alerted community leaders and historic preservationists to the potential sale of the county land.

"Our concern is the loss of open space in Towson," said Kilcullen. "Finding more open space has been a consistent recommendation of the consultants who have come in."

Architects and planners brought in by county officials to study Towson and work on a plan with residents and business leaders in 2006 recommended that government officials look for more "green space" in the heart of the county seat.

Last year, the county paid $296,000 for traffic consultants to work with Towson residents and business leaders to come up with ways to make Towson more attractive, or "walkable," to pedestrians.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said he has requested that as a condition of the sale, the new owner go through the Planned Unit Development process to develop the parcel.

"It would give the council and community more input. We don't want a fast-food restaurant or something like to go in there," said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat. "We want to be something that will be a benefit to the revitalization efforts in Towson."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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