Board to study plan requiring builders to create parkland

County proposal assailed by activists as insufficient

August 05, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Faced with a shortage of parks and playgrounds, Baltimore County has spent a decade wrestling with the question of how much land developers should set aside for recreational uses.

Today, a citizen park advisory board will take a look at the county's latest proposal -- one already criticized by community activists and some in the building industry.

The proposal would require developers who build subdivisions of 40 houses or more to set aside 500 square feet per dwelling of relatively flat, open land for active park use. Those who build smaller subdivisions could pay a fee to the county instead.

The proposal differs substantially from a plan the Recreation and Parks Board supported two years ago that would have required builders to donate 1,000 square feet per dwelling -- 650 square feet for active recreational use and 350 square feet for passive park uses like trails.

Victoria Gentile, chairwoman of the board, said the county's latest proposal isn't sufficient. "I don't see this as a positive move," she said.

Already, the county owns a third less parkland than state standards dictate. "We are still playing catch-up," she said.

But David S. Thaler, a civil engineer frequently hired by developers, said Baltimore County's land use regulations already are among the toughest in the state. Forcing developers to donate more land would reduce the number of buildable lots, increasing the risk of sprawl as developers move to other areas, he said.

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; the county has less than 23 acres per 1,000 residents.

Builders now are supposed to set aside 650 square feet of space per dwelling, but the requirements do not specify whether the land is for active or passive use. Nor do the requirements apply in the county's rural areas.

County officials said the new proposal would encourage better quality of parkland and eliminate provisions that allow developers to count stream buffers and wetlands at 50 percent in calculating the open-space requirements. Developers would have to contribute for subdivisions even in rural areas.

"Now we are saying we want 500 square feet of level ground," said Albert Svehla, special project coordinator for the county's Office of Planning.

"It can be a place where the community can have a little cookout or where parents can look out and see their kids play."

The county's proposal would still give developers the option of paying a fee instead of donating land if they build 40 houses or fewer.

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