Residents of Coldspring New Town in Northwest Baltimore sparred with naturalists yesterday at a City Council hearing over a proposal to permit 102 new houses along Cylburn Arboretum's southern border.
Although Coldspring residents are eager to expand their small community, naturalists fear the houses would mar the natural beauty of Baltimore's only park dedicated to trees.
The development "is crucial to the success and maintenance of Coldspring," said Alex Kreamer, president of the Coldspring Community Association. The 252 condominium owners in his community have struggled to maintain a large area designed for nearly 4,000 homes that were never built, he said.
But Anneke Davis, a local environmentalist, said "20 years from now, people will regret" the development. "Cylburn will be inevitably and inalterably and disastrously damaged," by the development so close to Cylburn's entrance, where visitors can "leave the city behind and enter an area of natural beauty," she said to a packed council chambers.
The hearing featured other proposals with broad implications for the community between Cold Spring Lane and Northern Parkway, west of the Jones Falls Expressway.
City officials proposed changing the 1972 Cold Spring Urban Renewal Plan to eliminate space for an elementary school and stores -- marking a realization that ambitious plans to build nearly 4,000 homes to lure the middle class back to Baltimore will never become a reality.
The city spent $20 million in government loans and grants to build the community during the 1970s, when federal money was more plentiful for cities than it is today.
But today, there are only the condominiums, designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safde. The striking, modern concrete homes are called deck houses because they are built into large community decks with cars parked underneath.
Using an elaborate map, city planner Laurie Hay described the proposed changes in the urban renewal plan. They would include eliminating goals for a Coldspring health care program and educational facilities for all ages.
But most of the hearing focused on the 102 homes planned along the northern edge of Coldspring, near the intersection of Springarden Drive and Greenspring Avenue.
Although trees would separate many of the houses from park property, some would be little more than 10 feet from the arboretum, said T. Audrey Sawyer, president of the Cylburn Arboretum Association, a private group that preserves the park.
Despite the protests, residents were insistent on expansion. Former state personnel secretary Hilda Ford, who has lived at Coldspring since 1978, said the proposed development is a good "compromise between environmental extremism and economic extremism."
"We are not tree killers. . . . " she said, adding, "None of us plans to destroy the environment."
The City Council approved the developer's plans for the houses last fall, but the Cold Spring Urban Renewal Plan must be rewritten before construction can begin.
The developer, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, also is awaiting the outcome of a Baltimore Circuit Court lawsuit, in which the Cylburn association claims the construction would destroy wildlife, plants and trees in the park.