Nature lovers try to save trees bordering Cylburn

JACQUES KELLY

August 16, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Graham Egerton's face tenses up when he points to land surveyors' stakes in a clump of mature trees and saplings at the edge of the Cylburn Arboretum in Northwest Baltimore.

He is one of a small group of naturalists, bird watchers and friends of the urban environment who are fighting the city's plan to allow developers to build houses against an edge of the municipal wildlife sanctuary and tree preserve in the 4900 block of Greenspring Ave.

"In a few years there'll be swing sets and wash lines and barbecues right here at the entrance to Cylburn," he says.

Egerton, a member of a group called the Cylburn Arboretum Advocates, is critical of the city 's plan to assist a developer to construct 102 homes called Cylburn Hills. The development is essentially an enlargement of Coldspring, the controversial and costly 1970s housing project built on the western side of the Jones Falls Valley.

"We understand the city's need for more tax revenue. It would be shortsighted to harm a potential attraction such as Cylburn in exchange for a short-term quick fix for the city's finances," Egerton says.

He realizes that his group is waging a very uphill fight. The land where the houses are to be constructed is city-owned, as is the Cylburn Arboretum. The proposed housing development has been promoted by the city's housing department. He has found only a few sympathetic votes in the Baltimore City Council, which will vote on Cylburn Hills in a few weeks.

The development's critics say the land adjacent to the arboretum ought to be kept free of new construction.

"This is a beautiful spot. It's rare in the city. There's only a few trees and some bushes that separate the property line. Why spoil it by building houses almost to the property line? We'd like to see a minimum 75-foot setback. As it's now planned, some of the houses would be built within 12 feet of the property line," Egerton says.

The Cylburn group has been fighting with the housing department since 1987, when the city first proposed more housing for the Coldspring New Town site.

Cylburn's constituents are friends of nature, people who meet for walks, bird watching and gardening on the grounds of the 190-acre estate that once belonged to Jesse Tyson, who grew rich mining chrome at Bare Hills. His Victorian summer home sits in the middle of the greensward.

"Cylburn has already been stressed out by a lot of things -- Sinai Hospital's parking lot, the Jones Falls Expressway, Northern Parkway, the television towers," Egerton says. "Cylburn is a very delicate, fragile place. It's not a park or . . . a recreation site. Yet it is both and it is neither."

A few community groups -- the Baltimore Bird Club, the Greater Baltimore Environmental Center and the Mount Washington Improvement Association -- have joined in the cause of the arboretum advocates.

"In spite of encroachments, Cylburn remains an oasis of natural beauty," says a report from the advocate group. "From the moment visitors turn in the entrance from Greenspring Avenue, they enter a different world of the natural environment. This feeling of peace and seclusion is treasured by citizens from all over Baltimore.

"There is no way this ambiance can be preserved if the Cylburn Hills development goes forward according to the present plan," the report says. "The last thing that should happen to Cylburn is the increase in noise, [artificial] light, air pollution, storm water and sediment runoff, pesticide pollution and -- most disastrous -- the sheer visual impact of these dwellings, so many and so close."

"It's hard to make people realize how bad-looking it's going to be," Egerton says. "People drive by Greenspring Avenue and they look over and see it's nice and green. I think they'll see a very different sight if the graders and bulldozers move in."

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