Activists seek help to preserve woodland

State, trust money sought for 4-acre parcel in city

June 11, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Preserving 4 acres of pristine wooded land near their Mount Washington home has become something of a crusade for activists Elinor and Leonard Kerpelman.

When they formed the Woodland Committee Land Trust to purchase the property at the end of 1997, they knew it would be a struggle to save the patch.

A year and a half after the group bought the land from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for $90,000, the Kerpelmans say the trust's finances are in jeopardy.

FOR THE RECORD - In a June 11 article about a four-acre parcel of land off Northern Parkway in Mount Washington, ownership of the wooded lot was misstated. The deed is held by the Woodland Committee Land Trust, not by Elinor and Leonard Kerpelman, the couple who set up the trust.
The Sun regrets the error.

The couple is looking for help from several sources, including the Mount Washington Preservation Trust and Maryland's Open Space program.

The Kerpelmans and the Mount Washington trust say talks are unresolved at a "sensitive stage," but they hope to come to an understanding by Tuesday, the day of the annual meeting of the Mount Washington Improvement Association.

The Kerpelmans hold the deed and put up their money for the purchase. The Woodland Committee Land Trust has made no payments, but the couple has raised more than $30,000 from neighbors, which is being held in escrow, said Elinor Kerpelman, trust president.

"We need money in hand to extinguish the mortgage and grant a conservation easement," she said. "Then the land would be fully protected" from development.

Leonard Kerpelman, who as a lawyer successfully took Baltimore's school prayer case to the Supreme Court in the early 1960s, has staged a letter-writing campaign to draw attention to the woods north of Northern Parkway near Greenspring Avenue.

For the Kerpelmans, the 4 acres of forest are sacred, buffering their neighborhood from the noise and traffic of Pimlico Race Course and Northern Parkway. "It doesn't make sense to take open space out of desirable neighborhoods," said Elinor Kerpelman.

Michael Baker, chief of parks for the Recreation and Parks Department, said that unless the Kerpelmans come to an agreement with the Mount Washington trust, Open Space dollars are not an option.

"It's a hard sell [for the city] if it's not a straightforward deal with the Mount Washington Preservation Trust," said Baker, who administers funds for the state Open Space program.

"The main problem is that it's hard to use taxpayer dollars if they're unwilling to transfer the title and deed of the property," Baker said. "If it's a clean deal and land transfer, we are all for that."

The city's racetrack impact fund rejected the Kerpelmans' request for financial assistance. "Mortgage money is not something we've done," said Diane Frederick, executive director of Northwest Baltimore Corp., which administers the fund. Baker and Frederick expressed reservations about funding a project benefiting individuals, as opposed to a benefit for the wider community.

But Peter Garver, former president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association, said the Kerpelmans are not alone in their quest to save the land. "There continues to be a lot of support for preserving that land," he said.

Elinor Kerpelman said that if talks with the Mount Washington Preservation Trust don't work out, she will continue raising money for the woods. "The reason it's not a lost cause is because I never give up," she said.

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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