Open Spaces, Closed Mind

September 08, 1992

Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein slammed the door last week on a state plan to buy valuable open spaces in Maryland with bond money to prevent these precious acres of greenery from being turned into rows of town houses. His action could have severe and damaging repercussions in the Baltimore area.

No one can fault Mr. Goldstein for being reluctant to issue state bonds instead of cash for these land purchases. After all, why pay interest when you can avoid it? But sometimes it is necessary to borrow, which is why the General Assembly specifically authorized the issuance of bonds to buy green spaces for future preservation. While the state does have a severe budget crunch, its credit rating remains Triple-A and there is ample bond money to acquire the properties most vulnerable to development.

The state cannot permit the owners of the Robert Merrick farm in Cromwell Valley near Towson to turn those 216 acres into a massive sea of up-scale housing. Nor can the state afford to let developers get their hands on 22 acres near Rocks State Park, or 99 acres adjoining Patapsco State Park, or the 27 acres near Morgan Run State Park. Dwindling green spaces must be preserved.

Over the past two years, the legislature has drained the Program Open Spaces fund of $80 million of property transfer-tax money intended for land purchases. This helped balance the state budget, but it left the program with no cash to buy properties in danger of falling into the hands of builders. That's why lawmakers authorized bond money for this purpose.

We hope Mr. Goldstein relents when this matter comes before the Board of Public Works the next time. We trust Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Lucille D. Maurer share our concern for saving open spaces in Maryland's congested metropolitan areas, even if it means borrowing funds to do so. If we don't act now to safeguard this greenery, it may be too late -- forever.

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