Council to step in on plan for Loyola athletic fields

Residents fear noise and loss of open space

September 24, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Backed by the mayor, a Loyola College proposal to buy city-owned land to build athletic fields in the Woodberry area will be taken up by the Baltimore City Council, after years of meetings between neighbors and school officials produced no accords.

When a City Council hearing is held -- no date has been set -- residents of four small communities near the proposed site, including Brick Hill and Greenspring Trails, will have a chance to voice views in a public forum.

Representatives of an umbrella group, the Woodberry Planning Committee, said in interviews late last week that they feared noise, trash and light pollution, and a diminished amount of open space. They also raised health concerns about construction on the site, which contains a closed city landfill.

"This is a rural paradise in the city, with foxes, goldfinches and hummingbirds," said Claudia Brown, 62, the Park Hill Edgegreen Neighborhood Association president.

The proposed development, which would sit just southwest of the Jones Falls Expressway and West Cold Spring Lane, would share a driveway with the newly completed Northern District police station.

Legislation was introduced Sept. 10 by Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration to allow Loyola to purchase 50 acres of city-owned land and 21 acres from Children's Hospital to build an intercollegiate sports field with grandstand seating for 6,000, and two smaller practice fields.

"A lot of give-and-take will take place in the course of planning, but it's a former dump, and I think this is an improvement," O'Malley said, adding, "I bet a lot of neighbors will be using that [proposed] track."

Parking spaces for 358 vehicles are planned. Students would be bused to and from the Loyola campus two miles away and satellite lots for practice and home games.

College officials refused to disclose the cost of the land. Terence Sawyer, the Loyola official who led discussions with neighboring groups, also declined to specify the cost of what he called a "multimillion" dollar project.

"It will be three years of meeting this January," said Sawyer. "We believe we made significant compromises."

Most important, Sawyer said, Loyola agreed to place 30 acres in a forest conservation easement. And school officials planned to leave forestry intact by placing all structures "on previously disturbed [landfill] land in hopes of reaching some kind of consensus, but discussions broke down," he said.

Tracey Brown, 31, a photographer and a Woodberry Planning Committee member who attended the extended talks with Loyola, said the presence of athletic fields would not be an amenity: "A lot of people would move, without open space. There's a country feeling while living close to downtown."

Instead, she said, many hoped to see the area become a recreational retreat with hiking trails. "This is a lot of structure, people, noise," she said of the Loyola plans.

This project follows another ambitious one for the co-ed Catholic, largely undergraduate private college: the aquatic and fitness center built on the former Boumi Temple site across from the campus on North Charles Street. College officials looking for places to expand often refer to the Charles Street campus as landlocked.

Claudia Brown, who is a city liquor board commissioner, expressed concerns about underage drinking and said she and others feared concerts on the site.

"They're not nice neighbors," she said of Loyola College students.

Sawyer said the college had cut the original number of parking spaces from 1,200 as a concession and show of good faith. "I'm still hopeful we can work something out," he said.

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