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Harris Teeter Proposed at Current Towson Firehouse Site

David Strouse, president and CEO of Birchwood Capital Partners, presented the proposal before the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations Thursday night.

(Update 9:42 a.m. Friday)—A Harris Teeter grocery store has been proposed for the site of the existing Towson fire station.

David Strouse, president and CEO of Birchwood Capital Partners, told members of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations Thursday night that his Baltimore development company is pursuing plans to acquire the firehouse site at York and Bosley roads from Baltimore County to construct the store.

"We're sort of in the preliminary stages of planning," Strouse said.

An early site scheme presented to the council shows a 48,756 square feet food store with a parking surface for 163 cars and an additional parking space for 100 cars underneath the store.

"It's a smaller Wegmans concept," Strouse said.

Members of the council, including President Paul Hartman, expressed concerns about the store complying with Towson's urban design plan that stresses walkability.

"It really is about walkability," said Ed Kilcullen, a former GTCCA president and Towson Manor Park delegate.

Towson Park representative Carl Eltringham, whose community is near the site, said he is worried about traffic congestion, particularly between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"It's a crazy intersection." Eltringham said.

Mike Ertel, another former president of the council who now represents the West Towson community that is also close to the site, said he was concerned about rumors circulating about a gas station or convenience store, such as Royal Farms, that would be open around the clock coming to the location. Ertel noted that he personally likes the idea of a grocery store at the site.

"It would probably be less egregious than a 24-hour gas station," he said.

Ertel also pointed out that lights from a 24-hour store would be intrusive to the Towson Park community, which lost a buffer a couple of years ago when trees were cut down near the neighborhood along Morningside Drive to accommodate a cemetery.

Councilman David Marks said Friday morning that he was reserving judgement on the project until all proposals are reviewd and the county council is approached about the sale of the land.

"I think it's the type of supermarket that would be welcome by many in Towson...I'm going to be asking very tough questions about traffic, walkability...any effects to the nearby neighborhoods," he said.

The county officially put the site up for sale, along with the North Point Government Center in Dundalk and a police substation on Liberty Road in Randallstown, in early January.

Funds raised from the property sales would go toward the construction of new county facilities and finance school improvement projects.

Towson Manor Park was initially considered for the site of a new fire station, but following community protests County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said that he plans to build the station at the corner of Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard—now the site of a fueling station for county vehicles.

The Harris Teeter supermarket chain was founded in 1960 in North Carolina, according to the company's website.

Ed February 23, 2013 at 02:29 AM
John H, that station is similar in the amount of equipment to stations in Dundalk, Essex and Catonsville. Dundalk has two engines, two medic units and a brush truck, Catonsville and Essex the same minus one of the medic units. Towson has two engines, two medic units, a brush truck and a ladder truck, just one more unit than Dundalk and less than probably half of the volunteer stations in the county. And years ago, when the training academy was co-located there, the station also had a foam unit, and air truck, a fuel truck and a battalion chief. Those units have since been moved to other locations. Finding locations for two smaller stations would be much more difficult from both a capital and operating budget point of view.
Ed February 23, 2013 at 02:33 AM
From experiences in visits to North Carolina, Harris-Teeter will make Giant, Safeway and Wegmans look like an Aldi when it comes to price. It has to be one of the most expensive supermarkets around. Of course, when this idea was first hatched, everyone said a Wawa was going to replace the fire station. Not sure if this is better or worse. But obviously, the York Road corridor needs more supermarkets like it needs more fast food joints or gas stations.
Ed February 23, 2013 at 03:45 AM
OK, I'm confused. I just read a month-old story on The Sun/Towson Times website that says the new Towson station is slated for the county filing station near Towsontown and Bosley in an area that is essentially all office space. I understand the desire to not have another grocery store in the area, but why is anyone complaining about that location for the new fire station? Certainly better than the originally planned location in East Towson.
JDStuts February 23, 2013 at 04:26 AM
Look across Bosley. That's all single family residential with a minimal property value of $400k. Kiss it goodbye and its accompanying mil rate. Of course, Marks hasn't produced any numbers so he can claim the offset is all wild speculation. Just like the sale will pay for a new facility and install A/C in the schools. "Trust me, the county exec is a visionary. A chicken in every pot." Due diligence is a real thing in business. Guess a lifelong bureaucrat living miles away wouldn't know anything about that.
Ed February 23, 2013 at 04:46 AM
JD, I can't speak to Marks as I don't live down there anymore, but the effect to those $400,000 homes will be minimal. First of all, all of the buildings along Bosley have been converted to offices since at least the 1980s, some a decade earlier than that. So even the closest handful of residences have at least one lot of offices between them and Bosley. Also, while they will hear more sirens going northbound on Bosley, they will hear fewer going southbound because the new station will already be south of those residences. And I hope you're not trying to say that those $400,000 homes deserve more quiet than the $200,000 row homes in Towson Park and Stoneridge :-) I've never heard anyone in Towson complain about the fire sirens.
lew February 23, 2013 at 04:53 AM
wow Ed you seem to know alot about fireman stuff
David Taylor February 23, 2013 at 04:55 AM
Peter, as far as I can tell, Mr. Marks didn't spearhead this developer plan or the pending relocation. I'm not even sure if the county exec informed him or anyone else on the council (or the public) about this grocery store plan until just now. Mr. Marks is a long time Baltimore county resident... http://councilmandavidmarks.com/about-david/
Ed February 23, 2013 at 05:06 AM
Lew, interestingly enough, I became interested in following the fire service because of seeing all of the equipment coming out of that station as I was growing up. I guess you could say I'm a fire buff, listening to calls on the scanner all the time. I also have wound up working with quite a few retired fire and police types in my current job.
K Blue February 23, 2013 at 05:07 AM
JDS, its not entirely accurate to say that it is all single family residential across Bosley. Immediately opposite is the old Towson Jail which over time became the Women's Jail, and is now rehabbed office space in the historic jail structure. Immediately behind that is the so-called Green Ravine, a natural buffer. You probably recall the proposed swim club plans for that location which was definitely not single-family residence in mind, featuring a pool and other amenities designed to attract members, particualry members from the Southland Hills and neighboring communities, but unfortunately despite approvals to proceed, the economy and lack of available interest prevented its creation. A little further up on Bosley before you reach Chesapeake is a row of townhouse-style structures used commercially. There are offices on Bosley from Towsontowne Blvd all the way up to Joppa Road on both sides of the street. I am old enough to remember the frat house on Chesapeake, now converted into office space (thank goodness that it gone). I believe there are commercial-like buildings all the way up West Chesapeake to Dixie Drive. There are single-family residences on 2 streets that run behind the jail and other nonresidential properties on that side: Colonial Court and Alabama Road. There are others further inside the community of course, but those are the 2 I think you must be thinking about.
Ed February 23, 2013 at 05:09 AM
Thanks K Blue. Much better detail than I presented.
K Blue February 23, 2013 at 05:19 AM
Ed, I grew up in that area. When news of destroying the green ravine or disrupting the buffer were afloat recently, I knew that would be a mistake. The swim club wasnt a bad idea provided they maintained the buffer. Organizers revised the plans to accommodate the nearest neighbors. But, as I noted previously, the swim club itself didn't come to fruition due to other conditions out of their control.
David Taylor February 23, 2013 at 05:43 AM
JDStuts - Whatever this personal beef you have with Mr. Marks - it's fair to mention that this is Kevin Kamenetz's proposal, not his. I agree with the basic criticisms of the plan, and it's obviously to me at least that the fire station relocation was an afterthought. It's just a shell-game to open up the corner for the developer - I mean, why relocate the fire station? If there wasn't this plan to auction off the county land, would we be looking to move it at all? (and the land goes to the one interested party, who already drew up detailed plans for the lot! Wow, that was fast) The timing is terrible... and the details on how they came to this decision/plan have not been shared (or just aren't available)... so we don't even know if it makes economic sense. We know how many parking spaces the new grocery store will have (which takes time to figure out actually), but we have no idea for sure where the new fire station will go or any idea how much the land will go for in this market? I think it's apparent what the priority there really was. However JD - as sketchy the whole thing seems to us, it's not Mr. Marks' plan and it's unfair that you attribute it to him. You're barking up the wrong tree. Mr. Kamenetz has lead the charge on this: http://towson.patch.com/articles/county-puts-three-properties-up-for-sale Also on this: http://towson.patch.com/articles/school-administration-no-inappropriate-action-in-eastwood-facility-closure
David Taylor February 23, 2013 at 05:44 AM
p.s. (1500 characters isn't a whole lot IMHO, continuing this from that last posting...) ... Development happens, and it's often a good thing, but planning needs to happen as well, and we should expect transparency in government and in the process - that I don't see as yet. Instead I see threats to our local parks, a homeless fire station, and promises of air-conditioners if we just "go along" and accept these proposals... we deserve better.
David Taylor February 23, 2013 at 05:50 AM
Um, I think "LW" is right - is that an enormous brick wall on the plan (corner or York/Bosley) - Yikes.
C. McMahon February 23, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Why do you even suggest that Councilman Marks has anything to do with this proposal? The Baltimore County Administration solicited proposals for buyers of the Towson fire station, and someone responded. Simple as that. I personally don't think the site lends itself to a grocery store (wait until you see the size of the retaining walls needed to fit it on the site), but it is zoned properly and the prospective buyer is taking the risk of success, not you.
JDStuts February 23, 2013 at 02:41 PM
K Blue, The buffer isn't. Technically what you claim is a sight line buffer. Acoustically speaking, especially the ravine, its does nothing for a 125-140db brake line powered air horn. (Soundproofing comes from varying layers of density within a compact area.) The strip of CRE doesn't offer anything like that. In fact a truck leaving the new site will hit that horn through 4 intersections before leaving West Towson to hit York Road northbound. That is what in real estate we call a game changer. Ed, Above is also to your point. The station's present location has given the market time to adjust a price accordingly. Obviously its not a net plus. Now through a knee jerk reaction and not proper planning you are going to negatively impact a entirely new, larger market segment. All of which leads back to my point. No estimate or study has been attempted to gauge this impact since there was never a plan to determine a new location, only a plan to sell the old lot. Try this. Call/email Marks and ask for numbers. In another forum someone remarked this was KK proposal. It is. But Marks can squash it with a no vote in the council. If he thinks its a good idea it must be because he has seen numbers that certify the sale will more than cover the cost of new construction/offset any decrease in the property tax rolls/and have plenty left over for new A/C installation. If he hasn't seen these numbers then that's very poor leadership.
Ed February 24, 2013 at 05:19 AM
JDStuts, you must have some very sensitive RE clients. Yes, they will hear more units going northbound, but remember, most of them won't hear the units headed southbound to Rogers Forge, Charles Street or east on Burke to assist Hillendale or Parkville. And many of those houses already hear plenty of medic units 24/7 (and they now use the same types of air horns that engines use) so they are probably used to hearing sirens, what with two hospitals a couple of blocks away. By the way, how do you real estate folks ever sell homes in those well-to-do areas near volunteer fire stations in Lutherville, Jacksonville, Pikesville, Chestnut Ridge, Hereford, etc. They have much louder sirens to alert the volunteers of a call. I live in a town in Carroll County with two sirens for its volunteer FD and we are about 1/4 mile away from one siren and 3/4 mile from the other one. After a few months, most people just don't hear them any more.
Ed February 24, 2013 at 05:33 AM
As to the bigger picture of the site of the existing fire station and highway yard at York and Bosley, let me offer some observations. 1. The existing station is obsolete and needs to be replaced. 2. That site is much better suited for retail/office than a government facility because it is a great retail location. But, as has been noted by others here, this is a crappy time to sell. 3, Any site on York Road between Bosley and Towsontown should be held to much higher deign standards than other areas. They should be built with the main entrance fronting York and parking in the back to encourage pedestrian traffic as opposed to more suburban oriented design outside of Towson's core. The prospect of a massive retaining wall at the intersection is awful design for the area. I'm sure they are doing that to save on grading costs, but the county should require that WHATEVER is built there should have to be graded so that much of the York Road frontage is level with the roadway I(I know it can't be a perfect match because of the incline on York, but they need to be more creative than just a massive retaining wall). I fear this piece of land will be poorly used much as the parcel at York and Washington (old Gino's and adjacent lots) which should have been a showpiece property to compliment the revived Towson City Center across York Road.
Beth February 25, 2013 at 02:51 AM
I'm not sure where you shopped at a Teeter in North Carolina, but when I lived in Raleigh it was my day-to-day store. It was certainly not overpriced and the quality was better than the Kroger or Winn-Dixie. I went to the Fresh market when I wanted anything especially fancy. It was great to have one open up in the area, finally. This was in the mid-90s. Glad to see Towson is catching up to Raleigh. And I still stop in the Teeter when I vacation at the Carolina beaches. Still moderately priced. In my experience, it's Safeway that is obscenely overpriced and you couldn't pay me to go back to Trader Joe's.
Ed February 25, 2013 at 03:25 AM
Beth, first time was with my cousin in the md-90s in the Southern Pines area. Last time was about 4-5 years ago in Carolla in the Outer Banks. To be fair, I was comparing the OBX store to the Food Lion a little bit down Highway 12, and certainly the H-T store was a NICER store than the Food Lion. I just checked out the weekly specials for the H-T store in Columbia, and I guess the sale prices aren't too bad, except for produce. Those produce SALE prices were more expensive for most items than the everyday price at other stores. By the way, I only go to Safeway for sale items. I am a cheap blankety-blank and shop sales most of the time. But I do agree with others that the York Road corridor has plenty of grocery store options as it is. That site deserves better.
Old Terp February 26, 2013 at 06:41 AM
Even if the county builds a single new station on the spot proposed, they'll still need a second and possibly third site for a new salt dome and maintenance garage. The poor access issues with that congested corner, and views of a jail, body shop, and car dealers are overcome by the likely bargain basement price I suppose. I completely dissagree with the notion "it is a great retail location". The current firehouse should be modernized, remodeled, expanded, or recreated in place of the salt dome and garage if neccesary. With all due respect, I wish Mr. Marks would step out of his comfort zone and lead on this issue. People in Towson know these "creative" land swaps are stinkers but he hasn't shown any willingness to even question them. Justifications like we need a new fire house, or it will bring jobs are really not sufficient. I would hate to see him lose the credibility he's built by seeming so cozy with KK.
Roger February 26, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Mr. Marks, We do need to keep the station where it is for the maximum safety of the population and the other reasons I stated above. This is not partisan. We need you to take the lead and speak for us. We will cover your back if you truly lead our battle. You have been very responsive assisting us in other issues that arise locally; some you help quietly that I can personally attest to and some, such as the downsizing issue you mention, more publicly. Don't be afraid to fight KK on this for us. I have spoken to others and read the comments here. This is a hot issue for Towson residents and we look to you to speak for us. Selling off our precious assets is wrong and grabbing flimsy excuses to defend it is transparent - saying we spent the money on a school tells me to start saving again. Air conditioning and keep down taxes? Come on, that's grasping at straws. Do we need another grocer? Hardly. This mish mash of planning - or lack of - only exacerbates the bad traffic issues and hurts our overall community livability. We see it throughout the metropolitan area because developers don't have a reason to care. Do you want Harford Road to look like Ritchie Highway? That is development run amok. Towson can be made more livable instead of more like Glen Burnie. Look forward and we will cover your back.
Ed February 26, 2013 at 08:49 PM
Roger, Unless you have information about response times that I do not, please explain why a location 5 blocks away would affect response times. Yes they will be about 30 seconds slower getting to the Fairmount Aveune/Goucher Blvd corridor and areas to the north. But they also will be about 30 seconds closer to Stoneleigh, Rogers Forge, Charles Street, Saint Joe's, GBMC and TSU. This move will have no effect on the safety of the neighborhood. It's not like they are closing a station or eliminating equipment or moving it to the far end of the first-due response area. There may be many legitimate reasons to think that a grocery store is bad for that intersection, but don't throw up a false argument about community safety.
Ed February 26, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Old Terp, you say that corner has bad access but then you advocate rebuilding the fire station on that site. If it has bad access, its not the place for a fire station. That being said, while I don't think a supermarket is good land use, the fact is that area is all commercial (except for two churches). Views of the jail, body shop, car dealer, etc., won't matter. Access to potential customers, particularly relatively affluent ones in north central Baltimore County, makes it a valuable commercial (not just retail) site. Trust me, in a good market (not now) this site would sell for a premium price. This is just the wrong time to do it. That site would be better served by an attractive, well-designed mixed use office/retail facility, with the building fronting York Road and parking in the rear. It is true they also will need to relocate the highway shop and salt dome, but that facility should never have been put there in my humble opinion. When they decided to close the old public works maintenance garage and the two district highway shops that used to be up in Cockeysville (current site of the Target), they moved the repair shop and one of the district shops to Glen Arm (along with the FD equipment repair facility) and put the other district shop in the heart of Towson. I guess its helpful for getting show plows into Towson in a hurry, but not good land use. The highway shop would be better off in an out-of-the-way industrial area of Timonium or Hunt Valley.
Old Terp March 03, 2013 at 07:04 AM
There's a glut of available sites along York from Starbucks to the beltway and many underutilized buildings throughout Towson. I'm not convinced dumping this parcel during a down market helps taxpayers in the long run? How does it help the existing businesses? Most of what struggles in Towson is the retail and there's at least three new grocery stores nearby, not sure how many of the 24hr-chain-drug-convenience stores there are. If this goes office building, what makes it better than all that's already available? Bad as the access is for this parcel, at least it's set up as a fire station. Proposed fuel station site seems an almost comical suggestion. What's the turning radii on those fire trucks. Not sure you get that and any meaningful building on that lot. I suppose the firefighters will park in the county garage and walk over there, or will they ride bikes? The small office building next door is on a larger lot and has only a few spots under so mostly those folks park across and down the hill at the American Legion.
Ed March 03, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Old Terp, I agree with the vast majority of what you say. The timing is awful, strictly retail would be a bad use of the space and a grocery store clearly is not needed. As for office, I don't know what the vacancy rates are in Towson now, but before the downturn, vacancy rates in the Towson area were low compared to the rest of the metro area. And a good developer would want to start constructing new space as a down market is ending to have good space available as the market improves. I will admit I'm not sure how the size of the fuel station parcel fits in, but remember a few things when comparing to the current space. First, the new station likely would be drive-through (garage doors at the front and back), increasing the flexibility of moving equipment in and out. Second, the existing site is the size it is because it was designed for four purposes: local fire station, fire headquarters (the offices on the north side along York Road), the equipment repair shop and the training academy. The last three functions no longer take place there (with the last two being replaced by the highway shop/salt dome, which shouldn't be in downtown Towson in my opinion). That's why there is so much open space on that location. The timing is tough because the existing station is functionally obsolete (the oldest station in the county that has not been replaced or rehabbed by about six years) and needs to be replaced soon. -- more --
Ed March 03, 2013 at 05:04 PM
In my ideal world, with budget and commercial real estate issues not in play, I would find a spot in the Timonium/Hut Valley area to move the highway shop and salt dome, construct a modern fire station as far south along the Bosley Avenue side of the parcel as possible. Then, when the market was better, I would sell off the rest of the parcel for some sort of mixed use complex with strict design standards and the new building fronting York Road and parking areas between the new fire station and the new commercial structure, with requirements to add additional turn lanes, etc., to help with traffic flow. Alas, what is ideal and what is feasible aren't always one-and-the-same.
Mbatley March 04, 2013 at 05:14 PM
Ed, Old Terp, all, As a resident of Southland Hills I'm wondering who we "pissed off?" We seen increased noise and traffic from the aggressive policy of the University to grown its population. This has led to significantly increased traffic and parking in our neighborhood. Most days when I come home at 5:30pm I cannot find parking on my street because of all students parking in our neighborhood. We have also seen increased traffic and noise from the University's new grand entrance being place directly across from our backyards and then to add insult to injury they build a large, 2-story building basically in our back yards with lights on and University trucks and buses coming and going. Now the county piles on... The noise from this new firehouse will be significant as they will pull out with sirens blaring to clear and stop traffic. That noise will easily come into our neighborhood night and day. (And what those in the Palisade's Apartments directly next to the new location?) I wrote to Councilman Marks about this and in his meeting with our neighborhood leadership and KK's assistant we were told that, "this is a done deal." Harry's Teeter wins, we lose and where is our leadership??
Mbatley March 04, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Ed, We in Southland Hills would have loved to see this with the a new Firehouse built back where the highway shop and salt dome are presently located. We suggested that and it was immediately shot down. Never considered. There was never a real process for this decision. The whole, "let's put it in the park" feels now like a ploy not unlike when my son asks me for $50 dollars, and I say, "NO WAY!" He responds, "well how about $20 then?" And I give it to him. He walks away thinking, "That's what I wanted the whole time..."
Mbatley March 04, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Another point to consider...Why do we need this??? 21204... Graul's Eddy's Fresh Market Safeway Trader Joe's 21286... Shoppers Giant Target-full grocery inside Walmart-grocery inside Weis-new next to Target Lutherville... Mom's Organic Shoprite Mars This says nothing about local Royal Farms, 7Eleven's, Ethnic Food stores, and specialty food stores in the same area.

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