Group purchases property to save it Residents organize in Mount Washington to buy wooded area

December 31, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In an innovative solution to the continuing conflict between developing and protecting green space in a city, a Mount Washington group bought a pristine patch of woods yesterday to preserve it as open space.

The 4 1/2 acres, bought for $90,000 from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, shield a neighborhood of rambling houses from the noise, traffic and fumes of Northern Parkway and the Pimlico Race Course parking lot. The woods border the parkway west of the Greenspring Avenue intersection.

"This feels like the country," said Elinor Kerpelman, 69, a resident who started the Woodland Committee Land Trust with her husband, Leonard, and raised thousands of dollars from her neighbors this year. "That's why we don't want to lose the woods. We wanted to keep it as an unspoiled bit of forest."

The land trust mobilized to meet a year-end deadline imposed by the charity, said Bruce Eisen, The Associated's vice president.

The Associated is the fund-raising institution for 19 affiliated Jewish social and service organizations in Baltimore.

Eisen described the transaction yesterday as "a win-win for us and the community as well."

Both parties said the price paid was somewhat below market value, with Eisen estimating the market value of the land at $120,000.

"This is an idea whose time has come," said Leonard Kerpelman, 72, a local activist. "A civilized patch in an urban territory."

The purpose of the trust, he said, is to establish restrictions on the land preventing future development, modeled after the Nature Conservancy's approach to protecting open land and wilderness.

But his wife said the struggle to preserve the woods is not over.

Since May, the land trust has raised $52,000 from about 50 donors, a sum large enough to purchase the land with a down payment and a nine-month mortgage.

"We still need $40,000 in the next eight months," she said.

Under an agreement between The Associated and the Woodland Committee Land Trust negotiated in the spring, the trust had an option to buy the land until the last day of the year.

If the neighborhood group had allowed the deadline to expire without purchasing the property, The Associated planned to sell it on the open market.

"We gave them a window," said Eisen.

The Associated offered the land to the neighborhood first, he said, "because the community was concerned about future development."

Eisen noted that the neighborhood has a large number of Jewish residents who contribute to The Associated's causes.

Another organization, Mount Washington Improvement Association, also considered purchasing the property. But the ad hoc land trust organized by the Kerpelmans emerged as the buyer.

Leonard Kerpelman, a former trial lawyer, said the area contains one of the largest concentrations of trees among urban neighborhoods in the country.

As snow gently fell on the bare trees yesterday, he said, "If this woods goes, the whole neighborhood goes. This [purchase] takes it out of the grip of the landlord."

Their worst fear, he said, was that the woods would have been cut for a service station or for a dozen townhouses.

Eisen confirmed that The Associated has been approached by a number of private developers.

He said that because the organization had no need for the land, its board felt a "fiduciary responsibility" to sell it as an asset.

In an open letter to Mount Washington residents, the Kerpelmans described the woods as a "wall of protection. We need this woods. This woods need us."

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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