Md. OKs funds to seal deal for park

Weinberg foundation, county worked to secure 232-acre waterfront site

State contribution final piece

Pasadena

December 18, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The state cleared the way yesterday for one of Anne Arundel County's fastest-developing areas to welcome a 232-acre public park with nearly 7,000 feet of shoreline, varied habitats and groves of forestland.

Despite a tight budget, the Board of Public Works approved spending $1.5 million from Program Open Space to acquire an area known as White Pond Park, off Fort Smallwood Road and abutting the Patapsco River and several creeks.

The area will be renamed Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Park, after the Baltimore foundation that donated its interest in the property - valued at about $2.75 million - to make acquisition of the three parcels possible.

The Weinberg park will have more waterfront acreage than Downs Memorial, the area's other popular waterfront park, which the county acquired in the early 1980s.

"There's a great deal of pressure on development in that area," said John T. Keene, chief of planning and construction for Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks. "For a piece to have survived this long is incredible."

The park was among the first land-preservation projects approved since October, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. halted state funding for preservation while priorities were re-examined in light of budget shortfalls.

Yesterday, Ehrlich emphasized that protecting the bay would be the bottom line, and that the decision of what to preserve would come from scientists and not from politicians.

Before yesterday's meeting, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said she worries about whether the state's new guidelines would imperil the Weinberg acquisition, which her administration worked on for three years. But because the property is near Rock Creek and the Patapsco River, she said, she thinks it would qualify under the new or old rules.

"I was concerned, but I assumed that any revamping would take in the Chesapeake Bay, and because this was waterfront it would make the criteria," Owens said.

The board also approved smaller open space preservation projects in Carroll, Cecil and Washington counties at yesterday's meeting.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation owns one 35-acre parcel; three-quarters of a second, 81-acre parcel; and half of the third and largest parcel, which consists of 116 acres.

The foundation agreed to donate the land to the county if the county promised to buy out the other owners, preserve the land as a park and name it for the couple.

The park's location in Pasadena, home to affordable bungalows and waterfront estates, was a major draw for the Weinberg Foundation.

"It gives poor people as well as wealthy people the opportunity to enjoy the water and sand," said Joel Winegarden, the foundation's real estate director. "If we didn't do this, the opportunity would be lost."

Harry Weinberg, who died in 1990, made much of his money buying real estate in declining areas of Baltimore. He and his partners bought the waterfront parcel between 1966 and 1968, when the area was largely rural.

The foundation that bears his and his wife's names gives out nearly $100 million a year. According to Weinberg's wishes, any building for which the foundation gives more than $250,000 must bear the couple's name.

Every year, the state allocates money to each county for open space initiatives.

Anne Arundel County's share over the past five years has ranged from about $2 million to $5.1 million. This year's allocation is about $2.3 million.

Preserving open space has been a major priority for Owens' administration.

In 2001, the county was able to preserve 615 acres near Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary with the state's help. Last year, the county paid $5 million for 460 acres in the Magothy River watershed, ending four years of negotiations with the landowners.

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