Links split city, county Golf course debate has hit rough

July 04, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Baltimore City and Baltimore County are on a collision course over efforts to build a second golf course on the city-owned Loch Raven Reservoir property.

Environmentalists have battled golf enthusiasts over the issue for years, but now both governments say they have final authority over any decision.

The proposal renews a legal debate, left unresolved for five years, over how much power the city wields on its substantial landholdings in Baltimore County, and whether the county government can apply its development regulations to city property.

The outcome could have an impact on next year's gubernatorial race.

The Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., a nonprofit company that manages Baltimore's city-owned public courses, notified Baltimore County officials in October of its intent to build 21 additional holes adjacent to its Pine Ridge Golf Course, on city-owned reservoir property about two miles northeast of Towson.

Lynnie Cook, the corporation executive director, said the $4 million project would be financed privately and would add about 200 acres to the 310 acres the golf course occupies. Altogether, the city owns 8,117 acres in the Loch Raven Reservoir property.

Though it hasn't approved the project, the city Board of Estimates in January gave the corporation access to its adjoining reservoir property to conduct an environmental impact study.

At that meeting, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a board member, told representatives of neighborhood and environmental groups from both jurisdictions that a preliminary legal opinion gives the city complete authority to go ahead with the project if the board decides in favor of it.

"Our position is that city government, and only city government, controls what happens in the watershed," he said.

He said the city has a long precedent of controlling the property, and "we don't want to invite the county government into the watershed."

The General Assembly gave the property now included in the Loch Raven Reservoir to the city in 1908 as part of its drinking water supply system. In return, the city provides public water to parts of Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

County wants project review

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden said last week that the county -- backed by an opinion from its attorney -- believes the golf course development would have to go through the county's normal development review process.

That means it would have to meet requirements of various county agencies and go through a community input meeting and a hearing before a county hearing officer who would approve or disapprove the plan.

Mr. Hayden said he talked to the mayor and was assured that the city would proceed in the manner of any other county landowner who wants to develop property.

But Mr. Schmoke reaffirmed his earlier position last week. "What happens on city-owned property is subject to city laws and regulations only," he said. "But this is not an issue, as yet."

Mr. Schmoke conceded that the impact of the additional golf course would "go beyond the watershed, and to that extent, there are certain county regulations we can't ignore in making our decision if we go ahead."

Mr. Hayden said that if the mayor has changed his position, "rest assured I will talk with him again and straighten it out."

Another top county official who spoke under condition of anonymity said the mayor had privately assured Mr. Hayden that he wouldn't push the project if the county didn't want it. But, if the city tries to circumvent the county's review process, he said, "Roger is prepared to go to the mat on that issue."

Four County Council members -- a majority -- also have sent letters to Mr. Schmoke opposing the golf course expansion.

Political motivations

Some elected county officials say Mr. Hayden is convinced that Mr. Schmoke doesn't want to make enemies in Baltimore County by backing the course if he decides to run for governor next year.

On the other hand, those politicians say that if Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a popular 2nd District Republican, gets the GOP nomination for governor, Mr. Schmoke might figure he can't win the county anyway. In that case, they say, he could approve the project and score some points with corporate backers who want more golf courses in the area.

The Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., which brought up the issue, was formed in 1984 by then Mayor William Donald Schaefer. Before that, the city's golf courses, managed by its Department of Recreation and Parks, were losing money and were in disrepair.

The private, nonprofit corporation -- the first of its kind in the country -- quickly turned the golf courses around, made them profitable and poured profits into improvements.

Course proposed in '87

When the corporation proposed a new golf course at Loch Raven in 1987, the county zoning commissioner ruled that the property was exempt from county zoning laws but that the project was subject to the county's development regulations.

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