Corporate campus at the Cloisters?

April 15, 1992

Although a final decision won't come until the frost is on the pumpkin, Baltimore City appears to have no chance of getting the commercial re-zoning it covets near the Cloisters Children's Museum. Because the museum is located in Baltimore County, the city must come hat in hand -- a familiar posture -- seeking the zoning change.

City representatives say the land-use change would allow development of a small office park to provide a more steady revenue source for the museum. County planners and community groups, fearful of anything that could open the Greenspring Valley to development, are especially suspicious of the city request because it lacks details. The zoning the city seeks on 30 wooded acres could allow an astounding 3 million square feet of building space. Several more hearings will take place before the county council acts on comprehensive re-zoning this fall.

The Cloisters' commercial concept seems a poor one: Why would the city risk marring the woodlands and medieval castle where the popular children's museum is located? Would the city allow a car dealership across from the stately Walters Art Gallery? Offices hemming in the Cloisters would surely lessen its value as a placid oasis for the public and for those who rent the grounds to hold weddings and receptions.

There is a larger question raised by this request: How can the city be expected to carry the cultural burden of the entire region? Museum Director Beatrice Taylor says anecdotal evidence suggests that most families visiting the museum hail from the suburbs, while school groups visit from the city. When are the counties going to pay their fair share?

When the estate of Summer and Dudrea Parker decades ago looked to bequeath the stone castle that had been the couple's home, Baltimore County, among others, turned down the offer. The city, however, saw the value of making it a children's museum. Since its opening in 1978, the Cloisters has become one of the area's most popular educational attractions, particularly for pre-schoolers, drawing about 50,000 visitors a year.

Scarring the hilly site with offices to raise funds would seem a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. By the same token, the suburbs have to start providing child support, and not lip service, for that baby.

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