Balto. Co. revives deal on park land Council is expected to OK purchase of Owings Mills parcel

November 30, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County has revived a controversial plan to provide fast-growing Owings Mills with its first major park by spending $5.3 million to buy a 241-acre tract just west of the new town.

The plan, sidetracked in September by concern among residents and some County Council members, now has solid support, though some councilmen are still grumbling about the price.

Council members say they are likely to approve the deal Monday, clearing the way for the county to take over the land, which had been zoned for a residential golf course community.

The Deer Park controversy is typical of the county's struggle to accommodate new communities such as Owings Mills at a time when revenue growth is slow and older neighborhoods need attention.

The pressure for more space for soccer, baseball, lacrosse and other recreation is intense as the county tries to keep young families from migrating to outer suburbs in Carroll and Harford counties. At the same time, the county is being pushed to fix aging schools, hire more police and revive older community centers.

"We're in a bind. Unfortunately, we're going to spend a high price for amenities," Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, says, pledging to support the Deer Park project.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican who represents Owings Mills and the north county, also bemoans the county's failure to buy park land 15 years ago, before Owings Mills got so big.

But officials in the administration of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger say that if money had been available 15 years ago, park land would have been purchased.

This land, they say, is being bought for the same price Towson developers Henry LeBrun and Chris Pippen agreed to pay in 1988, when they purchased options to buy from the nine owners.

The site is the only large piece of undeveloped property left in Owings Mills, officials say. To develop the community without providing for recreation would be unforgivable, they say.

"We don't want just cement places," says Ruppersberger, who represented Owings Mills as a councilman from 1985 to 1994. "This is extremely important. There's nothing else left over there."

In September, some council members were angry about being confronted with a do-or-die proposal to buy the land -- at a price that one labeled "highway robbery." Area residents also were suspicious of the sudden change in development plans.

The developers who control the property had planned to build residences and a golf course there, but the 9-year-old project has failed to attract new investors.

Under the plan outlined to the council in September, the county would pay $4.5 million for the land; an additional $750,000 would come from the state. The county share includes $3.3 million previously granted out of state open space funds.

Ruppersberger notes that the county was prepared to spend the state money for which it already had approval on a 95-acre parcel near the site of the new park; now it can get more land for the money.

The deal can't go forward until the state Board of Public Works approves the final $750,000 allocation, possibly in January. If the county doesn't buy the property, the land is approved for 382 new homes and a private golf course -- something neighbors say is less desirable than a park.

"We're happy that they're going to put a park there," said Larry Phair, president of the Lyons Manor Community Association. "It eliminates the possibility of more overcrowding in schools."

He lives in a nearly completed 276-home development just east of the proposed park and north ofDeer Park elementary and middle schools.

Area residents were wary at first about scrapping the golf course community that had been proposed by LeBrun and Pippen of Towson. The developers had promised to keep through traffic away and provide aesthetic buffers.

Phair says county officials have promised the same guarantees will be included in park planning.

Although county officials say no specific plans for the park have been made, they have talked about allowing a public golf course to be built on about 160 acres, leaving the eastern 80 acres for some kind of regional recreational facility. A $2.5 million recreation center has also been proposed.

Pub Date: 11/30/96

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