Balto. Co. wants to buy 241 acres Owings Mills land would cost $5.3 million, help fill recreation gap

'Highway robbery'

Councilmen balk at price tag

option expires on Oct. 1

September 12, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

In a move to provide ball fields and parkland for the fast-growing Owings Mills -- where recreation facilities are scarce -- Baltimore County wants to buy 241 acres that had been proposed for a golf course community.

But some County Council members, wary of spending money for expensive parkland, are balking at the $5.3 million land deal. One calls the $21,750-an-acre price "highway robbery."

Public pressure is growing countywide for more recreation land -- more soccer, baseball and lacrosse fields. And the problem is particularly acute in Owings Mills and White Marsh, which the county designated as high-growth areas.

"Our indoor soccer league plays in Carroll County because there's no place to play around here," Owings Mills Recreation Council president Charles Grant said yesterday. Outdoor fields also are limited, he said, because there are only three schools in Owings Mills, and the county usually builds fields next to schools.

The shortage of recreation land has developed, in part, because of the county's designation of the high-growth areas. That has driven up the cost of land, often pricing the county out of deals, officials said.

"We're playing catch-up, as government always does," said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican who represents Owings Mills. "We have the most desperate need for recreational areas. If we don't do this now, it will be much worse for our successors."

But other councilmen were angry about being suddenly confronted at Tuesday's work session with a do-or-die proposal to buy the land, which has been approved for a 382-home golf course community.

The chance to buy the land -- at Lyons Mill and Deer Park Roads between Owings Mills and Randallstown -- may evaporate by month's end, they were told.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, referred to the price as "highway robbery," despite appraisals showing the county would be paying what the land is worth.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, asked why the county has waited until now, nearly 20 years after Owings Mills was conceived as a new town, to buy parkland.

And Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said yesterday that those objections will continue.

"I don't think it will go away by Monday," he said, referring to a scheduled council vote on the purchase.

But County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III is confident the council will come through, his spokesman Michael H. Davis said.

"I think in the end we'll be OK," Davis said. "This is crucial. We have a billion dollars invested in Owings Mills' infrastructure."

On the need for a park in the area, county Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller said, "This is the capstone on an arch."

Ten years of planning for a 100-acre lake that was to be the recreation centerpiece of Owings Mills failed when the county couldn't get federal environmental approval to build it. Now, finding land flat enough for playing fields is tough, because developers want it.

"That's where we pay top dollar," Keller said.

News of the county's interest in the land surprised Diane Goldbloom, first vice president of RENEW Inc., a consortium of Randallstown-area community groups. "That's wonderful," she said. "One less housing development will help a lot."

Under the plan outlined to the council, the county would pay $4.5 million for the land, using $3.3 million previously granted by the state for parks. The state would kick in an additional $750,000 toward the purchase of the land from nine owners.

Triangle-Deer Park, which plans to build 382 homes and condominiums in the golf course community, would transfer its purchase options to the county. The options expire Oct. 1.

Chris Pippen, one of the developers, said work on the new homes will get under way next year if the county doesn't buy the land. He said building the community would provide more profit than selling the land, but he wants to limit his risks by moving to smaller projects.

The county would use 80 acres for recreational uses, such as ball fields and picnic areas, county Recreation Director John F. Weber III told the council. The rest might be sold to the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, an independent agency with borrowing power, which could raise money to build the golf course.

Ruppersberger has a special interest in Owings Mills. As a county councilman representing the area for nine years, he helped convert years of planning for the new town into reality.

Providing land for recreation always was the toughest problem. Rezoning 5,000 acres for new development in 1984 inflated the value of land so that the county never could afford to buy it.

"If you don't put in recreation," Ruppersberger said, Owings Mills won't continue to attract affluent people needed to make the town -- and the county -- thrive.

Marge Neal, Owings Mills recreation supervisor, said, "There are absolutely no parks in the community."

About 6,400 children and adults participate in recreation programs in Owings Mills, she said. There are 750 children on 50 baseball teams, 450 on 28 soccer teams, and 275 on 15 indoor winter soccer leagues. Several hundred play on six spring soccer teams and 12 lacrosse teams.

Other programs range from Golden Age clubs to before- and after-school care programs, as well as activities such as dance and karate.

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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