Why things go awry

January 28, 1994

The evolving saga of the Northern District police station explains why so many Baltimore area residents and members of the business community have little faith in the city.

For several years now, the municipal government has been trying to find a replacement for the Northern District police station, an architecturally intriguing but badly out-of-date Victorian building in Hampden. A few months ago, the word got out that a new site had been found near the southwest corner of Cold Spring Lane and Jones Falls Expressway.

Then, quite unexpectedly, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke identified that 27-acre parcel as the leading location for a combined courthouse and youth detention center that the state wants to build in Baltimore City.

But wait! Before any of this became public, BaltimorDevelopment Corp., the city's own development clearinghouse, had started negotiations with interests representing the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, offering the site for the group's new headquarters.

Not only are those negotiations still presumably going on, but thbuildable land along Cold Spring Lane is not extensive enough for all three prospective users to locate there, even if they wanted to.

To us, this yet-unfinished tale illustrates the city's abysmal lacof coordination in development matters. It seems that things just happen, usually in a disorganized manner. People who have negotiated in good faith often either get bruised or shoved aside, leading to unhappiness and generating mistrust of the Schmoke administration among the business community.

Two decades ago, the Cold Spring Lane site was earmarked foa town center for the residential development of the same name on the hills near Cylburn Park. That town center never was built. But since 1988 the city's development officials have been operating on the premise that the land would eventually become a business park. Now out of left field comes an idea to locate the combined courthouse and youth detention center there.

Cold Spring Lane wasn't even the first choice: state authorities favored a parcel adjoining an existing District Court complex at 5800 Wabash Avenue. But well-connected activists learned about the choice and quickly moved to kill it.

A one-stop justice facility for juveniles is sorely needed. But communities ought to be involved in a planning process and not delivered a done deal. Otherwise the city's disorganized development efforts are bound to continue.

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