The 100-acre wood

The 100-acre wood

Bay Ridge: The state could spend a small amount of money to save a very small piece of property.

February 27, 2002

JUST SOUTH of Annapolis, in the thoroughly pleasant community of Bay Ridge, residents have come up with a plan to save one of the last open parcels of land along that section of the Chesapeake. Their scheme -- a complicated one that relies in part on money from the state's Open Space fund -- would halt development on a woodsy slope leading down to Black Walnut Creek.

Today, the state Board of Public Works will take up the proposal, and although rejecting it would probably be worse than approving it, the Bay Ridge package offers a handy lesson in how not to carry out worthy policies.

Any outsider driving in to Bay Ridge soon finds that there's only one thing there that's legal, and that's to drive out again. There's no parking, anywhere. There's no stopping, even, on the main streets. No access to beaches. All property private and posted. And that includes the open lawns and benches along the bay that are available to residents.

The Bay Ridge community wants to buy a 111-acre lot and put it into trust. The transaction would cost $4.1 million; the package that has been put together seeks $450,000 from the Department of Natural Resources and a $300,000 interest-free loan from the Maryland Environmental Trust. Commendably, the residents have also voted to impose a tax on themselves to help pay off a private loan, and several have pledged donations running into the thousands of dollars.

The result, for the state, would be to preserve an expensive piece of land for what is, after all, not much public money. The Open Space fund, which is fueled by a tax on real estate transactions, has $110 million a year to dispense. The Bay Ridge lot, just yards from the bay itself, would absorb only half of one percent of that.

The result for Bay Ridge? A fine little tract of mature growth woodland, right in the backyard, a buffer between the waterfront village and the sprawl of development.

There's nothing wrong with that. But is this the best way to use the state's money? Should public funds be directed according to the projects of well-off communities? Bay Ridge wants a modest amount from the state, but alone, that money would buy four times as much land in Dorchester County.

There is, to be sure, some benefit for everyone in a plan that preserves open space on the bay's doorstep and offers "passive" public access -- so this plan deserves to go forward. But here's a thought for the residents of Bay Ridge: Why not let the rest of us stop by for a peek once in a while?

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