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East Towson Residents Win Legal Round Over Affordable Housing Project

John Lee
Site of the proposed Red Maple Place apartments on Joppa Road in East Towson

Opponents of a planned affordable housing apartment building in historically Black East Towson have won a victory in the Baltimore County Board of Appeals.

Residents have been battling the proposed Red Maple Place, saying it would threaten their neighborhood. Republican County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said the Board of Appeals blocked the development over concerns the building would not be compatible with the community. Marks said the developer, Homes for America, should look for another site.

“I just think there is so much animosity, so much contention with the current site,” Marks said. “But that’s really up to the developer. The developer has the legal right to appeal it.”

And it will.

In a statement, Dana Johnson, the president of Homes for America, a non-profit organization, said they will vigorously appeal the decision in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

“Red Maple Place will provide desperately needed affordable housing in Towson and we remain steadfast in our commitment to deliver this opportunity to those who need it most,” Johnson wrote. “While we have not yet received the written order by the Baltimore County Board of Appeals, if what we have heard is accurate, Homes for America is deeply disappointed by their conclusion to overrule the approval of the Administrative Law Judge.”

In May, an administrative law judge ruled Red Maple Place could go forward. It would be a 56-unit complex at the intersection of Joppa Road and Fairmount Avenue on the edge of East Towson.

Some of the residents of East Towson, including Nancy Goldring, are descendants of slaves who once labored at Hampton Plantation in Baltimore County. In an interview with WYPR last fall, Goldring described Red Maple as a big, brick beast that will dominate the neighborhood.

At a hearing in January, Goldring said that the project was irresponsible.

“I totally do not understand the need to destroy one community to bring another one into being,” she said.

At that same hearing, Anthony Fugett, the past president of the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP, spoke in favor of Red Maple. He said the county has a horrific history when it comes to affordable housing.

“If you say, ‘not in my neighborhood,’ and you use that as an argument per se, then you have to accept that argument anywhere,” Fugett said. “That’s something that as a branch we couldn’t accept, so we had to be in favor of the Red Maple development.”

In 2016, Fugett, representing the NAACP, signed on to an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that settled a housing discrimination complaint against Baltimore County. It legally obligates the county to create 1,000 affordable housing units over 15 years. Red Maple’s 56 units would help the county whittle away at that number.

In November 2020, the county council killed a bill proposed by Councilman Marks that would have set height restrictions in historic East Towson. Marks said that could have been a compromise that would have limited the size of Red Maple Place.

“You could have still had a project there that was smaller and more respectful of the environmental considerations while advancing the county’s affordable housing goals,” Marks said.

The council was warned at the time by the county attorney that passing the legislation could invite a lawsuit.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2