Be careful what you wish for

December 01, 1993

The people of Deer Park have spoken. The question is, have they spoken wrongly?

Residents of the western Baltimore County community turned out in force at a recent public hearing to tell county officials they wanted no part of a government plan to build a recreation facility near the corner of Deer Park Road and Berrymans Lane. The county and the state would have jointly ponied up about $2 million for 138 acres of privately owned farmland. About 19 acres would have been used for the park, the rest as a buffer for the NTC state's Soldiers Delight environmental area to the south of the intersection.

To their credit, county officials listened at the meeting -- which they were not obligated to hold -- and backed down after hearing the complaints of the 200-odd residents who objected to having the proposed facility in their back yard. The locals feared that four lighted fields for soccer, football and baseball and space for picnicking and hiking would lead to congestion of the rural roads and bring unwanted outsiders to the quiet community.

The county was fair to recognize that no community should have a public project shoved down its throat. Given the government's desperation to provide playing fields to a public clamoring for them, county officials could have simply condemned the land and then rammed through the athletic complex. At the same time, there are indications the county did a poor job of selling the concept to residents, essentially getting out-hustled by local folks who mounted a negative campaign against the idea before county officials could step in and stress its strong points.

Yet, as in other cases where NIMBYism rules the day, this situation may end up backfiring on the residents. They have apparently succeeded in stopping the recreation facility, with the unwanted traffic and other unwanted elements it might have produced. But their victory could become a pyrrhic one if the land eventually is turned into a housing tract that puts far greater strain on local roads, schools and other amenities than four ball fields ever would have created. And in the meantime, neighborhood recreation councils are still without the facilities that they and their clients would have loved to have seen in the area.

"Be careful what you wish for," the expression goes, "you might get it." In blocking the athletic complex in Deer Park, have residents wished themselves a worse fate than the one they have successfully fought?

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