Lush Cylburn in danger again from humans

April 14, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Yesterday's drenching rains only made the grounds of the Cylburn Arboretum more lush, green and perfect.

The city's expansive wildlife and nature preserve off Greenspring Avenue -- not far from Sinai Hospital and Pimlico Race Course -- is one of those little known, unexpected pleasures that help balance and compensate for the ugliness in the city.

Yet it is here, precisely along a line of mature trees and rolling lawn, that the municipal government is so adamant to trash a serene setting.

A private developer, with the full blessing of much of city government, wants to build a housing tract along the wildlife preserve's southern property line adjacent to its main entrance.

Why should this be? Why should a few of the homes in a 102-unit housing project spoil the front door to one of Baltimore's greensward treasures?

Not every proposed home in this new phase of the Coldspring New Town development will harm the arboretum property. Some will be situated away from the park, properly out of sight. The troublemakers will be the houses closest to the property line, a critical spot where there is a narrow panhandle-like slice of park property that leads to the principal land mass of the arboretum.

I have problems with the concept that the individual home purchaser who ultimately buys one of these properties will have a marvelous rear-deck view of the municipal arboretum, while all the people who visit Cylburn will be exposed to the house, deck and barbecue grill. Can't the private home purchaser -- as well as the developer's profit -- be kept out of this picture?

The Cylburn Advocates (the pro-arboretum people) have had trouble getting a wider audience for their campaign. Many sources of power in City Hall have turned a deaf ear.

Maybe the environmental movement in the city is stuck in neutral. Maybe the old 1960s and 1970s fight-back spirit is gone. Maybe we just accept development as inevitable and impossible to challenge.

Part of the problem is that Baltimore is not a city where activism for any cause sells well. It is very difficult to put together and hold a group, much less battle an issue for years and years.

Another difficulty that the Cylburn Advocates face is that the spot is not well known. It is, by design, supposed to be a very passive sylvan retreat, with no ball fields, camping or other rough use. It's for bird watchers, nature lovers and friends of the Earth.

And yet we never learn the lessons of the activists who cried out in the past when greenswards in the city were slated for upheaval and destruction. Wyman Park residents tried in vain to persuade the Johns Hopkins University from building along San Martin Drive off University Parkway in the early 1980s. The residents lost. They lost big.

Today, the Stony Run Valley is permanently scarred by hulking ** buildings -- and traffic signals -- that are all wrong for this setting. We can build academic buildings anywhere. We can't just create a natural stream-valley park 2 miles from the center of a large downtown.

A few years after the Wyman Park battle, the Bryn Mawr School decided to put a new entrance road at Northern Parkway. Neighbors in the Kemper Green community fought back. The school's bulldozers moved it; the asphalt won out. A fairly nondescript stand of trees disappeared. I still miss those fallen trees.

Many people questioned the city's decision to build Coldspring New Town back in the 1970s. Millions of public dollars were poured into what became a costly mistake. The cash from the federal money spigot flowed freely in those days.

City officials will never admit just how much money was spent trying to build a new community on the side of the Jones Falls Valley.

They prefer to see Coldspring as it was billed, a bold housing venture. But instead of the thousands of homes that were supposed to be Coldspring, only a small fraction were built.

Some would say that Coldspring was a very expensive failure.

Others would lighten up and comment that it never lived up to expectations.

Whatever Coldspring's flaw, why should its error be compounded by messing up the entrance to our precious Cylburn Arboretum?

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