As public spaces go, the seven-acre parcel of Baltimore County called Forge Park seems small potatoes. Local residents without small children probably aren't even aware that two baseball diamonds, two tennis courts and 22 garden plots sit behind the Giant supermarket in the York Road Plaza shopping center.
Since last summer, however, the little park has been the focus of a controversy pitting Giant and BTR Realty Inc., the firm that owns the shopping center, against the communities that use the park.
Giant and BTR want to expand backward onto roughly half the Forge Park land. Their hope is to create a "Gucci Giant" like the super-deluxe Giants in Pikesville and Hunt Valley. BTR has asked the county to change the park's zoning from residential to commercial, with the understanding that BTR then would obtain suitable park space in Towson and exchange it for the Forge Park property. (The county is prohibited from selling the land outright, so a swap must be arranged.)
Residents of the local communities -- including Rodgers Forge, Bellona-Gittings, Schwartz Avenue, Anneslie, Stoneleigh and Wiltondale -- argue the expansion would wipe out a ball field, both tennis courts, the garden plots and a public restroom.
And county officials claim that an exchange might not even be possible. Open space in the Towson area is so scarce, they say, that they have considered buying and razing houses to create public playing fields. The county also supports the wishes of the Towson Recreation Council, which sponsors Forge Park activities for 1,800 people.
Yet, there are community officials and residents who say a Gucci Giant would be welcome both as a place to shop and as a centerpiece for a revamping of the dowdy shopping center.
BTR, after nearly a year of haggling with the communities, now says it will withdraw the expansion plan Sept. 1 if an agreement can't be reached. They don't want to alienate people who have long been loyal customers.
An old Genstar quarry off Regester Avenue was proposed for parkland, but the county said converting it would be expensive. BTR reportedly has approached Towson State University, but the school is said to be interested only in sharing space.
A Gucci Giant would be a fine addition to the Towson area. Yet the Forge Park provides much pleasure to residents. If, as one Rodgers Forge official says, a swap can be made for nearby land comparable to or better than Forge Park, then the communities would be foolish not to snap it up. But for now, that appears an unlikely prospect.