Site of Least Resistance?

January 29, 1994

Throughout the 1970s, Baltimore City's ambitious dream was to construct a new garden city for 12,000 people on the hills near Cylburn Park, west of the Jones Falls Expressway. There were to be clusters of individual homes, low-rises around the sloping terrain and high-rises around an abandoned quarry. A town center of commercial and public uses was to span Cold Spring Lane and tie a utopia called Coldspring together.

Two decades later, only 250 town homes and a 150-unit senior citizen complex have been built in Coldspring New Town. Plans for 102 new homes are in legal limbo. The town center never came.

The Schmoke administration is now mulling an idea to earmark 27 acres of that vacant land for a new Northern District police station, plus a courthouse and overnight holding facility complex for juvenile offenders.

Yet simultaneously, the Baltimore Development Corp. is marketing the site to the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, which has outgrown its existing headquarters on Mount Royal Avenue.

This mixed bag of conflicting uses -- too many to fit the parcel to begin with -- evolved quite accidentally over recent months. At first, the talk was only about locating the Realtors' building on the site -- and perhaps the Northern police station. The innovative juvenile facility was added to the plans after the city surveyed 14 other sites.

According to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the juvenile authorities' No. 1 choice was a parcel adjoining the District Court complex at 5800 Wabash Ave. But local activists created such a ruckus that this site was dropped. Another site, in the industrial area of Fairfield, was rejected by the state as too isolated. In the end, the Cold Spring Lane location seemed to create the least resistance. Like Wabash Avenue, it is well served by public transit.

There is little doubt that Baltimore City would benefit from a one-stop juvenile courthouse and an adjoining overnight holding center. In the absence of such a centralized city facility, juvenile offenders awaiting a hearing now often must be taken as far as the Eastern Shore or Western Maryland for overnight detention and then returned to the city the next morning. A one-stop facility would simplify paperwork and likely reduce the chaos of the existing system.

But should the facility be on Cold Spring Lane?

We are alarmed by the lack of planning. The mayor seems to be going one way, endangering negotiations conducted by his Baltimore Development Corp. with an interested commercial user.

The Schmoke administration should consider the future of the Cold Spring Lane site from the vantage point of comprehensive planning and its best, most profitable use. So far, that seems to be the last thing on the mayor's mind.

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