Legislation fostering the sale of 50 acres of city-owned land to Loyola College at two closed landfills could be delayed until summer, pending a completed study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, 1st District City Councilwoman Lois Garey said last week.
"The community has requested an EPA study on developing and building on a [former] landfill, and a lot of council people would like to wait," Garey said just days after chairing a contentious land-use committee hearing on Loyola's proposal to buy the land in the Woodberry area, off Cold Spring Lane.
She said that although she would like to see the Loyola project happen, a timeout until the summer for an EPA report on the site would "possibly be my first preference." As the committee chairwoman, she can speed or slow the city legislation, which Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration introduced in September to allow Loyola to purchase the 50 acres from the city and another 21 acres from Sinai Hospital to build an intercollegiate sports field with grandstand seating and two smaller practice fields.
Although the purchase from the hospital has been completed, a growing number of neighbors are opposing the sale of the landfill land.
A preliminary EPA report issued this year found "no extensive environmental threat from either landfill," but recommended a site inspection of each landfill and testing of the soil, air and the Jones Falls, which lies 500 feet away, for hazardous substances. EPA officials said they expect to complete the study before fall.
By federal law, any liability for harm done by the landfill is ultimately the city's, even if the sale goes through, city officials said. Legal details are being negotiated between the city and the college.
If a Loyola athletic complex is built -- a second phase would add six tennis courts and possibly an indoor hockey and basketball arena with 5,000 seats -- "it will change the community," Garey said. "I don't know if for good or bad. It may change for the better."
Neighbors who packed a marathon hearing on the project at the Northern District police station told Garey and nine other City Council members that Loyola's plans would ruin the peaceful quality of life and a small city forest.
Though the nearest house is 800 feet from the planned athletic fields and Loyola promised to place 30 acres in a permanent forest conservation easement, residents' concerns include student consumption of alcohol, lighting, sound, concerts, crowds and environmental disruption.
Jim D. Emberger, a 26-year resident and a member of the Woodberry Planning Committee, said, "We don't want to save the forest for the animals, we want to save it for ourselves. ... Although the Woodberry Woods is a distressed forest, it is the only one left in the central city. The stewardship that the community has already started with the removal of invasive species and the planting of new trees ... can one day result in a diverse, continuous forest," he said.
John C. Murphy, a lawyer recently hired by the Woodberry Planning Committee, said last week that if the project goes forward, he would press for quarterly meetings between Loyola and the public during building: "Nobody really knows what's in there [the landfill], and this would put the burden on Loyola to show what's going on from an environmental and public health standpoint."
The Woodberry parcel has been assessed at $7,000 an acre, but Loyola College has invested about $5 million in the past three years pursuing a goal of first-class NCAA men's and women's track, lacrosse and soccer fields and facilities, including parking for 350 vehicles.
Loyola official Terrence M. Sawyer said the college has incurred costs by hiring environmental and engineering experts to survey the land and design a master plan. The college has promised "minimal impact to each landfill," which are covered by vegetation, shrubs and trees.