Recreation plan sought for county

March 13, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

County planners are calling the open space plan before the Harford County Council a workable blueprint for providing more recreational space while preserving the county's natural areas.

But its critics are calling it a pipe dream.

Residents will have a chance to comment on the plan Tuesday night during a public hearing in council chambers.

"The fact is the dollars are not going to be there to provide the recreational facilities called for in that plan," said Council President Jeffrey Wilson last week after reviewing the document.

"We need to be honest about what is possible to do in the future. I don't want to pass a plan that's going to be a false promise," he said.

At issue is the 90-plus-page Open Space, Land Preservation and Recreation Plan.

The document examines the need for creating and preserving hiking and biking trails, scenic greenways and pristine waterways, neighborhood parks and historic landmarks.

It outlines general goals, recommends policies and estimates some costs to provide adequate recreation facilities and open space for Harford County through 2000.

The plan serves two purposes.

It is the five-year update the county is required to prepare to qualify for Program Open Space funding from the state. Last year, Harford received $640,000 in state funds under that program.

The plan also represents the open-space element of Harford County's Master Land Use Plan.

"This is a generalized document that's meant to act as a blueprint of sorts," Irene Poulsen, county open space planner who coordinated the project, said last week.

The goal, she said, is to maintain a healthy balance between providing adequate recreational land for the growing population and preserving the county's natural resources.

The plan was written with input from the Planning and Zoning and Parks and Recreation departments, advisory groups and citizens, she said.

"We're looking at ways to enhance open space in general, to broaden its functions and to ensure that open space is available conveniently," said Ms. Poulsen, noting that developers and neighborhood residents will become increasingly active participants in carving out functional space within communities.

But the plan failed to impress some residents who attended the first part of the public hearing, held in council chambers March 1.

"For 20 years I've sat through meetings like this," said Dennis Meadowcroft, a former president of the Bel Air Recreation Council who fears that, despite its well-meaning projections, the county is losing ground, not gaining it.

"Today we have one less ball field than we had in 1974," he told the council. "For the first time, we're telling kids in Bel Air, we don't have room for you" in the program.

He urged the county to "get rid of the theory and start some practical application."

It was an opinion echoed by the council president.

"We're kidding ourselves if we think another 50,000 people can live in Harford County and we can provide all the things called for in that plan," Mr. Wilson said. "The taxes would be mind-boggling."

The plan projects that the county population, now about 200,000, will reach 250,000 by 2000.

It puts a $2.8 million price tag on additional facilities for sports activities that will have to be built to serve the larger population.

But even more expensive than facilities will be the acquisition of land, said William Nicodemus, chief of parks and facilities for the county.

"The problem is finding sufficient land in the development envelope," he said last week, referring to the T-shaped corridor formed by Route 24 and U.S. 40 that has been designated for growth in the county.

"So much of it has been developed or is planned for development," he said. "There's very little open space left, and -- what is left is very expensive."

He said the county is looking at innovative possibilities for sharing space, including using land it has purchased for school sites as temporary recreational sites for five to seven years.

The greatest need for land for parks and recreation today is in the areas of Forest Hill, Fallston, Bel Air and Emmorton, he said.

Mr. Wilson, who was elected on a slow-growth platform nearly four years ago, said the county is "already behind the eight ball" ++ and can't afford to keep making plans for an increasing $l population.

"The industrial-commercial-agricultural tax base in this county isn't growing fast enough to support the residential population," he said. "Every new house built means an increase in the deficit.

"I have the highest regard for the planners who worked on it, but this is largely a utopian plan," he said.

Mr. Nicodemus said: "I agree that to fund everything in the plan will be difficult. But we're trying to catch up on facilities that weren't provided in the past.

"The building boom of the last 10 to 15 years has put a strain on the county, and we're only one of the departments struggling to keep up with the demand."

The public hearing continues at 6 p.m. Tuesday on Level A of the Courthouse in Bel Air.

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