Protect city neighborhoods -- Woodberry first

City Diary

May 29, 2002|By Michelle Pasternack

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM holds that educational institutions benefit the city at large to an extent that justifies inconvenience to individual neighborhoods or small groups of people. But is this always true? Can institutional expansion plans threaten harm to neighborhoods that will make them less attractive, more likely to lose both population and tax base? Take, for example, the sports complex that Loyola College proposes to build in Woodberry Forest.

Woodberry, adjacent to Hampden, is poised for a residential resurgence. Its neighbors, Roland Park and Medfield, are stable, attractive communities. Soon, however, Woodberry will suffer the loss of its treasured woods, and all three communities will be subjected to cut-through traffic, speeding, pollution, noise, and trash from hordes of students and fans. Wyndhurst Avenue in Roland Park will be the most direct route from Loyola's student center to the new facilities.

How can the sports complex be approved by the city over the wishes of these communities? Tax breaks and residential zoning are conferred upon educational institutions as part of the social contract that is conventional wisdom.

Yet City Council members who plan to vote in favor of the zoning plan that would permit building the sports complex are ignoring the community side of the equation. They are expediting the process, in part by failing to wait for environmental impact studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will replace previous studies that have mysteriously disappeared and have never been reviewed by the affected communities.

The City Council plans to take this measure to a third reading Monday, pushing it through at breakneck speed without the usual measured deliberation. The conversion of the Woodberry Forest public land into a massive 71-acre Loyola sports complex resembles the expressway that was proposed to go through Fells Point a generation ago.

The expressway was defeated in the 1960s by opposition from grass-roots organizations that understood the potential and value of their community. Unfortunately, Woodberry does not have the same political clout. Yet Woodberry is a potential gold mine for residential development.

It is another Dickeyville in the making, one enhanced by its parklike setting in the Woodberry Forest. Baltimore has failed by not promoting the historic mills and stone houses as a residential developer's dream, one located adjacent to the light rail. Baltimoreans and Washington expatriates alike would welcome the opportunity to locate in such agreeable surroundings, ones with the added plus of being but a convenient walk from rail connections to downtown Baltimore and Washington.

Loyola's sport complex should be built in a commercial area so there will be no adverse impacts on residential neighborhoods and where business districts will benefit. East Baltimore, for example, is languishing, and its accessible commercial corridors would welcome an influx of crowds to patronize restaurants, stores and other businesses. Did Baltimore City use a dart board in the designation of Woodberry Forest for Loyola?

Our city officials continue to fail to support the basic functional unit of the city -- its neighborhoods. They then wonder why Baltimore continues to lose population. This cycle must be broken, and Woodberry Forest is a good place to start.

Today's writer

Michelle Pasternack is a psychiatric social worker who has served on the Roland Park Civic League in a variety of leadership roles and on the board of the Roland Park Community Foundation.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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