Ideas sought for UB parcel

Mount Washington land may be leased, developed

School seeks to increase income

But community wants to preserve open space

November 24, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The University of Baltimore is looking hard at developing or leasing 44 acres it owns in Mount Washington, compounding the fears of residents already concerned about the future of Pimlico Race Course.

The state-operated university in midtown Baltimore is seeking ways to generate more income in light of the flat funding for the university system.

Consolidating and re-shaping the school's financial portfolio makes sense in an era of scarcer higher-education dollars, university officials said.

University officials have issued a "request for information" to see who might be interested in the land tucked between West Rogers Avenue and Northern Parkway; it is used now by nearby schools and a neighborhood league for soccer and other recreational activities.

"It's a preliminary inquiry on that property so we can explore untapped revenue streams in a time when budgets are in jeopardy," said Chris Hart, the university spokesman.

Jan Franz, the Mount Washington Improvement Association president, said the community staunchly opposes any commercial, retail or office development on the land, which she characterized as a community "jewel."

"We would like to see nothing happen, so no development at all would be our first choice," Franz said. "But we realize the university is in financial straits and something is going to happen."

The community's first choice, Franz said, would be to see a local school -- or a group of schools -- lease the land for athletic fields so that it remains open space.

Franz and others say they're being pressed on both sides of their wooded community, noted for its spacious houses with wraparound porches.

Pimlico officials are talking about development plans based on how the state legislature decides the issue of slots. The area also is facing the prospect of residential development on the Bonnie View country club property just across the city-county line.

"This could be the first time in Mount Washington's 150 years of existence that we've been faced with so much development with so much impact," said Franz.

Responses must be received by the university by Saturday, Hart said.

He declined to say how many have come in, but two institutions -- a private North Baltimore school and a neighboring senior facility -- expressed interest in the parcel in interviews with The Sun last week.

University officials, including President Robert Bogomolny, have met with the Mount Washington Improvement Association to discuss future use of the property, which the school says does not generate significant revenue.

The athletic fields on the land are no longer useful for the commuter campus, which does not place an emphasis on extracurricular activities.

To enhance student life, Bogolmony has made a priority of developing a student center next to the school at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues.

The faded athletic complex has three fields, a golf driving range, a parking lot and several vacant buildings, including an old gymnasium.

The rolling woodland surrounding the fields has a small stream running through it and the remains of a historic house.

David Rawle, president of the Mount Washington Soccer League, said the fields are a picturesque gathering place for families on weekends.

"A lot would be lost if our league shut down, with the social atmosphere those fields generate. Families need space for their kids to roam and play games," he said.

Rawle estimated the league pays about $5,000 to $6,000 every year to the university for use of the fields.

The Friends School of Baltimore is "in conversations" with the university because it is trying to find more space for soccer and lacrosse fields, said school spokeswoman Heidi Blalock.

"We are very eager to find playing field space," she said.

Also interested is the neighboring Wesley Home Inc., an assisted-living and nursing center for more than 200 seniors.

Wesley's chief financial officer, Gerald Jordan, said the facility is interested in exploring an opportunity to expand its operations.

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