Waterfront land eyed as park for county

Officials negotiating to acquire 235 acres

October 21, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials are negotiating to acquire 235 acres of prime waterfront property on the Solley peninsula in Pasadena for possible use as a public park.

Bernard Siegel, president of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation in Owings Mills, part-owner of the land, confirmed Friday that the nonprofit organization wants to give its share of the property to the county for use as a park. The property, one of the largest parcels of undeveloped waterfront land in the county, includes two tidal ponds and a riparian forest.

Officials hope the property might increase the amount of publicly accessible open space in the developed North County.

Naming rights to the park, which would probably go to the Weinberg Foundation, and negotiations with a family that has partial control of more than half of the land, have been the focus of recent talks, county officials said.

County Executive Janet S. Owens said Friday that the deal is not final, but she said she is "profoundly honored that [the Weinberg Foundation] would consider making such a substantial contribution to the county."

Owens has made preservation of farmland and open space a priority for her administration. This year, she hired former state Secretary of Agriculture Robert L. Walker to oversee land issues and farm preservation efforts. Some farmers have criticized the county's efforts, but officials say the county has preserved unprecedented amounts of land in recent years.

County Councilwoman Shirley Murphy said she visited the area Friday for reasons unrelated to the real estate talks and described the site as beautiful. She said that if the county acquires the property, it should be kept in a natural state because "whatever open space we have here, we want to keep it pristine."

Murphy's goal is in line with what other county officials have in mind for the property, which is near the Maryland Yacht Club. It has been owned by two families -- the Weinbergs and the Goldbergs, owners of a real estate company -- for more than 30 years. About 28 people live in a dozen rental houses at the waterfront site.

"What we envision for the property is that we would not provide a lot of additional development," said Jack Keene, chief of planning and construction for the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

County officials envision a park that preserves the land's natural features, possibly including trails and picnic areas, but not ball fields.

Keene said it is unclear whether the property could be used to launch boats, because the depth of waters that surround it -- including Rock Creek and the Patapsco River -- have not been measured.

Keene said an environmental survey of the land has yet to be completed, and that about $100,000 was set aside in this year's budget to cover such expenses.

Keene said state grants might be used to cover the purchase price of the land owned by the Goldbergs. An appraisal of the land is in the works, he said.

The Goldbergs, a Baltimore family that bought some of the land with the Weinbergs about 35 years ago, would like to sell their share of the property to the county to preserve it as open space, said family spokesman Stanley Goldberg.

Goldberg, who is representing the family in talks with the county, speculated that the land might sell for millions if he and his sons marketed it to developers.

"It is a beautiful property," he said. "It consists of about a mile of waterfront. It's the biggest piece of waterfront that close to Baltimore or Washington anywhere around."

Siegel, president of the Weinberg Foundation, said the foundation's board of directors wanted to give the property to the county because it "might make a nice park." He said the shortage of open space and public waterfront access in North County persuaded the board to donate the land to the county officials.

Harry Weinberg, a Baltimore businessman who accumulated large real estate holdings, established the charitable foundation with his wife, Jeanette, in 1959.The name of a road on the Arundel property, Honolulu Lane, alludes to valuable properties Weinberg held in Hawaii.

The foundation, one of the 25 largest private foundations in the country, boasts an endowment of more than $2 billion. Total charitable donations for the most recent fiscal year exceeded $77 million, including grants to Maryland recipients totaling about $23 million.

Should the county gain ownership of the 235 acres, the public will be invited to help decide how the property should be used, officials said.

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