More land for recreation use sought Balto. Co. may raise developers' donations

December 31, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Faced with a shortage of parks and playgrounds, Baltimore County is considering a plan to require developers to donate more land for recreational uses.

The Recreation and Parks Board, a citizen advisory group, wants to boost the amount of land that developers must donate to the county -- from 650 square feet to 1,000 square feet per house in subdivisions of 20 houses or more. Such donations would be required not only in residential zones as the law requires, but also in high-rise development zones and some rural areas.

"We're asking the developers to take a responsibility," said board Chairman Arthur N. Rogers.

The shortage of ball fields and parks has been a sore point in Baltimore County for years, especially in the rapidly growing areas of White Marsh and Owings Mills.

State law requires the county to have 30 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents -- about 20,000 acres. The county has 16,000 acres of parkland.

Supporters of the regulatory changes -- which are contained in a new Local Open Space Manual -- are bracing for an outcry from the development community. Twice before, the Recreation and Parks Department has tried to update the manual, but abandoned the project in the face of opposition.

"The sticking point is the increase from 650 square feet to 1,000 square feet," said Donna Spicer, a community activist who helped develop the plan. "There should be a big outpouring from the developers on this."

The Home Builders Association of Maryland has reviewed the plan, but isn't taking a position yet, said Tom Ballentine, director of government affairs for the organization.

Changes to the manual must be approved by the Planning Board and the County Council before becoming law.

The board, looking to ensure that the land donated by developers can be used for recreation, wants to require the open space parcels to be flat and dry. Although 350 square feet per house could be set aside for passive uses, 650 square feet of land per house would have to be suitable for active recreation.

The manual would still give developers the option of paying a fee instead of donating land for small developments.

Developers can receive a waiver if the open-space requirement would be less than a half-acre -- 21,780 square feet. The revised plan would permit developers to seek a waiver from the director of recreation and parks if their open space requirement is 20,000 square feet or less.

When given a choice, developers usually pay the fee rather than give up the building lot, said Michael Grossman, the Recreation and Parks Department representative on the Development Review Committee.

The county uses that money to buy parkland and to pay for improvements at existing parks.

But the $172,000 in the fund is "just a drop in the bucket" compared with the millions of dollars the county must spend to buy land for ball fields, nature trails and cultural centers, said Recreation and Parks Director John F. Weber III.

Even tot lots cost $10,000 to $20,000, Assistant Director Robert Bendler noted.

The Open Space Manual was last revised in the 1980s. Since then, the development process and some of the environmental laws addressed in the manual have changed.

The manual is scheduled to come before the planning board in February.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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