ANNAPOLIS -- The state is delaying plans to buy parkland at 11 sites in Maryland at the risk of losing the properties to developers.
State officials indefinitely postponed the plans yesterday at the insistence of Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who said Maryland's budget crisis is too severe for the state to borrow money to buy parkland.
"My priority right now is if you sell bonds, put the money in [building] schools and putting people to work," Mr. Goldstein said after a Board of Public Works meeting.
The board, made up of Mr. Goldstein, the governor and the state treasurer, was scheduled to vote yesterday on renewing options to buy the land.
However, Mr. Goldstein expressed reservations Monday about borrowing money for both the parkland and a golf course project in Western Maryland. He voted for the Rocky Gap golf course project yesterday, after officials of the Department of Natural Resources agreed to take the 11 park projects off the board's agenda.
The projects include:
* A 216-acre site in the Cromwell Valley in Baltimore County.
* A 22-acre addition to Rocks State Park in Harford County.
* A 99-acre addition to Patapsco State Park and a 27-acre addition to Morgan Run State Park, both in Carroll County.
Environmentalists say it makes sense to buy undeveloped land now while prices and interest rates are low.
Natural Resources officials say borrowing is the only option the General Assembly left them this year after lawmakers raided the parkland budget to pay for other programs.
"I would rather spend cash than pay interest [on loans] too, but I don't have that option," said Torrey Brown, secretary of the department. The delay leaves the properties "vulnerable" to developers, he said.
In Baltimore County, for example, the owners of the rural stream valley near Gunpowder State Park threaten "to sell the land for high-density residential development," according to a DNR document.
The owners of the Robert Merrick farm, in Cromwell Valley near Towson, want to preserve the property but cannot wait indefinitely for the board, said Debi Osborne, director of the Chesapeake Lands Project, the Trust for Public Land.
The state, in partnership with Baltimore County, wants to buy the land for $3.7 million -- less than it would bring if sold for development -- for recreational and environmental activities. The site contains historic lime kilns and other structures.
Natural Resources officials also hoped to buy other parcels in the Baltimore area that could end up in the hands of developers.
They wanted to borrow $450,000 to buy 27 acres for a arboretum and conference center at Morgan Run in Carroll. The owners of the property signed a purchase option with the state in 1990 and have turned down opportunities to sell to private buyers since then, the DNR said.
Officials want approval of an option contract to buy 99 acres of an estate for Patapsco State Park in Carroll. The state would pay $698,000, less than the value recommended in two appraisals.
The state has been negotiating with the owners for years. The heirs must pay estate taxes and hope to sell the property soon. An attorney representing them said he would advise putting the land on the open market if the board failed to act this week, according to the DNR.
Officials also wanted to spend $96,400 for 22 acres for Rocks State Park in Harford. The property contains Maryland's second-highest waterfall, and the owner "is anxious to sell the property for development if the board does not approve the purchase soon," according to the DNR documents.