Balto. Co. buying land for big parks Loch Raven tract would be second in recreation network

Vote on deal tonight

Demand for ball fields drives creation of regional facilities

January 20, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County officials are poised to make an 86-acre, $1.4 million tract near Loch Raven Reservoir the second jewel in a tiara of new regional parks that will add outdoor playing fields to keep up with booming demand throughout the county.

Tonight's County Council vote -- involving land that was to have become a commercial golf academy -- is part of a move to create playing fields in Reisterstown, Loch Raven, Chase and perhaps Arbutus to serve growing youth and adult athletic leagues.

Despite grumbling from several county councilmen during a work session last week, purchase of the Loch Raven land -- which is expected to be the site of up to eight athletic fields -- is expected to win easy approval.

"I support the concept," said Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, of a regional park network that will provide badly needed playing fields.

The regional parks initiative began with the purchase of a Reisterstown tract in 1995. The purchase of the Loch Raven tract at Dulaney Valley Road and Jarrettsville Pike is not likely to be the last, said John F. Weber III, county recreation and parks director. He noted that the county is negotiating on a similar-sized tract of farmland near Chase Elementary School to serve the southeastern part of the county.

He also is searching for sites for a fourth and maybe a fifth such park in the southwestern and western sections of the county. And he would like to have a sixth park in the northeast.

The idea, said Weber, is to respond to the growth in popularity of soccer, lacrosse and adult sports in recent years -- something the county's older system of schoolyard fields isn't equipped to handle.

About 2,200 adult softball teams play in the county. "The county has not moved to provide facilities to meet these needs," said Weber.

Leaders of local recreation groups -- such as Donald Buschman of the Greater Loch Raven Recreation Council -- agree.

"There are a lot of programs that get bumped" because of the lack of fields, he said. Youth sports get precedence over programs for adults, Buschman said. "If you have an adult softball league and you can't get a field, you're done."

When he has to tell taxpaying adults that they can't use public fields, Buschman said, "They don't want to hear it."

But without a ready supply of cash or land, the county has had to seize the opportunity for such parkland when it arises.

Its first purchase was an 80-acre tract in Reisterstown -- west of Interstate 795's terminus -- that cost the county $798,000 in December 1995. It will be the first regional park to be developed.

That site, which is south of Route 140 and next to a private golf course, is two to three years from opening, Weber said. It will have a lighted softball complex and a recreational building for either indoor playing fields or a swimming pool, along with outdoor soccer fields.

Private developers will be invited this spring to submit proposals for the Reisterstown facilities, Weber said.

The Chase tract, which is under negotiation, has been appraised at $1.1 million, Weber said, and a contract to buy it should be submitted soon. Combined with a vacant middle school site behind Chase Elementary, it could provide a large new park for the eastern county, he said.

The Loch Raven deal scheduled for tonight's vote stemmed from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's desire to settle a long-simmering dispute between conservationists and Clark F. MacKenzie, developer of the proposed golf academy.

Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley said he will vote for the Loch Raven purchase, despite his objections that the county has no systematic plan for acquiring and developing parks.

He suspects, he said, that if the golf academy plan had been allowed to go forward, it would have foundered on environmental reviews and the county could have bought the land cheaper.

"I think the whole process stinks," he said. "This is not a piece of dTC the master plan anywhere. This is out of the blue."

Gardina, who helped plan for a series of parks in Honeygo, a 3,000-acre planned community in his district, said he will draft a bill barring golf courses or commercial recreation facilities on land zoned for watershed protection.

But he said the current proposal would better protect the watershed than a commercial golf academy, and he supports the regional park concept.

Jo Owen of the Watershed Protection Coalition said her group would rather see forest than playing fields, but realizes that "we can't have the best of all worlds."

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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