A steal in Owings Mills Baltimore County: Council ought to grab chance to buy park land at a bargain price.

September 17, 1996

THE OFFER to Baltimore County of 241 acres for a park in Owings Mills at a price of $5.3 million is such a great deal, it's hard to understand why so many are fussing about it. Community leaders, who would be expected to relish the idea of a park slated to take the place of a planned 400-unit housing development, remain wary. And County Council members have dramatically denounced the price as "highway robbery."

In fact, the $22,000-per-acre price is a steal in Owings Mills, where property has gone for several times that amount ever since the county zoned the area as a "town center." Before the developers who control the LeBrun-Pippen parcel came forward, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's administration intended to buy a nearby tract more than 2 1/2 times smaller for the same price, or $53,000 per acre.

Council members were informed of plans to buy the smaller property in January, when the county sought state funds for it. So while they may have been annoyed that the administration (and Third District Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who has known for some time about the LeBrun offer) waited until the 11th hour to tell them about 241 acres, they should not have been shocked and horrified at the idea of spending $5 million on a park in Owings Mills. Indeed, they should have been pleasantly surprised to find such an unexpected bargain awaiting their approval.

Grousing also revolves around why the county has waited to buy parkland. Coming on the heels of a controversy stemming from the slowness with which recreation projects in older communities are completed, this appears part of a pattern by which Baltimore County is always playing catch-up. Such a pattern exists, but the Owings Mills delay does not fit it. The county is only now buying parkland, not because of a glacial bureaucracy, but because until 1991 recreational hopes in Owings Mills were pinned on creation of a lake, later scratched for environmental reasons. Planners were redoing park plans when the recession hit and capital spending was frozen.

For the council to complain that this parkland should have been bought before, then balk at buying it now, may make good political sense, but makes no logical sense. It should buy this land while it can.

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