Lutherville residents debate use of park Conflict is between preservation, sports

November 18, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

It's a clash between midfielders and deer.

In Baltimore County, where development has left many communities with little open space, 15 grassy acres in Lutherville have become the focus of a conflict between two suburban staples: preserving wildlife and playing recreation league sports.

Leaders of a fast-growing local league -- where more than 4,000 children participate on soccer, softball, lacrosse and baseball teams -- say their fields are jammed. So they're scrambling for places to play.

"We don't have enough fields for practice. I hate turning the kids away," says Kathi Thomas, a Lutherville-Timonium Recreation Council softball coach and mother of three players.

But those who live near the county-owned Padonia Park are fighting to preserve it.

"I'm strictly for wildlife and nature," said Joe Konopacki, who lives in Wellington Valley, which borders the park. "I've seen the animals that live in this field -- deer, fox, hawks. It's a place for animals to survive."

Caught in the middle are county officials, who must decide whether the property will remain undeveloped or be transformed into soccer and lacrosse fields.

The park off Seminary Avenue has remained a peaceful haven as townhouses and single-family homes have been built around it. For more than 30 years, neighbors have fought against proposals to turn the site into a county vocational school or athletic fields with lights and restrooms.

Now, members of the 48-year-old recreation council would like to see the land developed into two or three fields with "no lights, no fancy stuff," says Jim Emerick, president of the organization.

He understands the basis for the opposition.

"Anything in your back yard is an issue," Emerick says. "But, in our situation, where we've seen a 10 percent population growth since 1990, we've had a crunch in providing services."

The thousands of children who participate on teams cram onto two county parks and five school fields. In addition, 44 recreation programs draw 2,000 volunteers and 560,000 participants and side-line watchers of all ages, Emerick says.

But neighbors favor preservation. They also say traffic along the busy corridor between Interstate 83 and Falls Road is a concern.

"Seminary has been totally developed. It's become a real pocket of traffic jams," says Nancy Cedrone, a 30-year resident of Longford North on the eastern edge of the property.

"It's not a convenient site to put something where a large number of people will be coming," she said.

Besides the contested site, Padonia Park includes three noncontiguous parcels that have not been discussed for development -- a 24-acre tract off Timonium Road; an 11-acre wooded, sloping parcel; and a stream valley.

John F. Weber, director of the county recreation department, says his staff will review the concerns of neighbors and rec league officials before deciding whether to meet on the park issue.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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