DRUID HILL PARK is to Baltimore what Central Park is to New York City. That's why a fast-track plan by the Schmoke administration to sell a triangular 8.84-acre parcel to a church raises dangerous alarm bells.
Particularly worrisome is that the administration tried to keep its true intentions secret.
In a May 14 meeting, residents of the surrounding area were told that the recreation department was in a financial bind and no longer needed the land, part of the park since 1860. What they were not told was that the Schmoke administration had effectively negotiated a deal under which the United House of Prayer for All People of the Church of the Rock of the Apostolic Faith would buy the parcel.
In return, the city would acquire a church lot that the congregation had previously bought in Ashburton -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's neighborhood -- but which it found unusable because of insufficient space for parking, zoning problems and complaints from residents. The city's plan now is to build housing on that site.
A request by the recreation and parks department to declare the Druid Hill Park parcel surplus land comes before the planning commission tomorrow. It should be rejected for two reasons. First, in a city with much vacant land, unique park property should not be sacrificed. Second, in this deal-making the public process has been brazenly disregarded.
This is a test case. As a means of creating one-time revenue sources, the recreation and parks department is likely to be increasingly tempted to lop off land by declaring it surplus. In exceptional cases, such sales may be justified. But if parkland is off-loaded, it should be done carefully -- and only after full public hearings and advertised requests for bids.
Baltimoreans have successfully fought earlier attempts to dismember Druid Hill Park. Those included a 1957 bid by the city to build a civic center there. Three decades later, parkland was to be given over to a television tower. Both times, citizen outrage defeated the plans.
Once again, Baltimoreans ought to rally to the defense of their 674-acre oasis. Druid Hill Park is part of Baltimore's patrimony. Its integrity must be safeguarded.
Pub Date: 5/21/97