2 private schools said to seek land for fields

Roland Park Country, Friends approached Baltimore Country Club

April 30, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The Friends School and Roland Park Country School have confidentially approached the Baltimore Country Club, proposing to buy some of its Roland Park land to construct four playing fields, said community leaders familiar with the discussions.

Neither the country club nor the schools would comment yesterday on the joint letter of interest, which the schools sent last week after months of exploratory talks. No precise sum was disclosed for the proposed purchase of about a dozen acres on the lower grounds of the club facing Falls Road at Hillside Road.

If the deal goes through, Baltimore's last lawn tennis courts might be replaced for the schools' athletic fields, but the vintage clubhouse would remain intact.

The country club has not officially said the property is for sale. But it considered a similar offer in 1999 from Friends School to buy a larger portion, 18 acres, for $5.1 million. The offer failed to win a required two-thirds vote from the club membership.

The schools' interest in part of the country club's land has raised community concerns. The Roland Park Civic League - with its nonprofit Roland Park Community Foundation - had expected to be included in the proposal as a financial partner.

"We want to be there, and we expect to be there before anything's entered into," said David Blumberg, the civic league president. "Last time this was attempted, the community was not supportive. A number of country club members live in Roland Park and know the neighbors are concerned. We hope the same mistakes won't be repeated."

Covenants on the land are a key issue for Roland Park neighborhood leaders and residents, who want legal assurances the land will not be developed beyond limited athletic use.

In return, Roland Park Civic League officials say they're willing to bring money to the table, although no specific amount has been promised, to preserve community green space.

David Tufaro, who has represented the fund-raising community foundation in talks with school officials, said the document sent to the country club leaves room for a community role.

"It clearly contemplates community involvement and approval," Tufaro said.

Because two practice fields and two varsity fields for games are being considered, parking, noise and traffic issues might need to be ironed out with the country club's residential neighbors. In a civic league board meeting this month, Tufaro told others, "The tipping point is, if the schools don't give us covenants, we'll fight real hard."

Christine McSherry, a civic league board member, said the schools were acting in a hard-headed business manner. "My experience is that if there's not something in writing, they'll make decisions on what's best for them and not the greater good of the community," she said.

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