Tennis club facing match point

Storied Green Spring Racquet could be replaced by office building

January 15, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,SUN REPORTER

The hulking metal barns are treasured by the area's tennis community. Thousands of people have volleyed with friends on the indoor courts, including Pam Shriver, who practiced here nearly every day during the peak of her career.

Now, more than three decades after it was built, the Green Spring Racquet Club has been sold to developers who are considering razing the barns and building offices. Neighbors, complaining of crowded roads, are gearing up for a fight over the site's fate.

Although the new owners say play will continue for more than a year, players are scrambling to find new courts.

"Green Spring Racquet Club played a huge role in my career because I grew up a mile down the road," said Shriver, speaking by phone from the Australian Open. "The place brings back a ton of memories."

In decades of playing tennis around the world, Shriver says that she has encountered few clubs that boast as many indoor courts as Green Spring.

"When you have 14 courts in a town like Baltimore ... it's really been a leader," she said, explaining that the club was built in the mid-1970s, during the height of the sport's popularity in this country.

Shriver said that the club's founders, William and Loretta Hirshfeld, were very supportive of her early in her career. Posters inscribed to the couple and signed by other tennis greats hang on the walls of the club, which is on Falls Road in Lutherville.

But nearly a decade ago, the Hirshfelds proposed knocking down the club and erecting two office buildings and a three-story parking garage, an idea that outraged neighbors in the posh Green Spring Valley area. A messy struggle ensued as Baltimore County Council members changed the site's zoning and took steps to limit construction there. The Hirshfelds sued the council and the county's permits department, and lost.

William Hirshfeld declined to comment for this article.

The site's new owner, Foxleigh Enterprises Inc., says that it will work closely with community members and the county to determine the property's future.

"We're thinking of a development, but we're not sure a development is possible," said Tom Peddy, one of the company's principals. "I think anything we do would have to be very low-scale."

He laid out three possibilities for the site: It could remain a tennis club, be converted into a fitness center with tennis courts or be razed and replaced with a small office building with retail space.

Foxleigh Enterprises will take ownership of the property on July 1. It will remain a tennis club until at least April 2008, Peddy said. He declined to say how much his company would pay for the 5.5-acre property.

Peddy is a leader of the firm that developed nearby Green Spring Station and still owns a substantial portion of that property. His family has owned land there for decades. In the 1930s, Peddy's father and uncle converted a roadhouse to what would become one of the area's most popular nightspots, The Green Spring Inn.

"One of the goals in buying the racquet club was to control what was going on in Green Spring Station," Peddy said.

Plans to develop the site might be complicated by the area's traffic problems. The three major intersections nearest the club have been given an "F" rating by the county. This would block new construction unless Peddy's company can prove that more traffic will not be created.

"The development plan could be approved but permits might not be issued," said County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, who represents the area. "That's why it makes sense to have a consensus reached between the developer, the community and myself."

Community leaders are adamant that the area cannot handle more cars. "The community's position is we don't want an increase in traffic," said Michael Friedman, vice president of the Meadows at Greenspring Homeowners' Association. "We want to maintain the ambience."

Peddy said that if his team builds offices at the site, they will consider leasing them to Johns Hopkins Medicine, which occupies two buildings at Green Spring Station.

A new building would interest Hopkins, said Gill Wylie, president of the Johns Hopkins Medical Management Corp., explaining that his company has offices scattered through nearby buildings that could be consolidated in one structure.

"We would add some new things, but a lot of it would be reallocation and reorganization of things," Wylie said.

Friedman said that his group would not object to Hopkins occupying the spot as long as traffic does not increase.

But tennis players and pros say that they'll be lost without the club.

"It makes me ill. It literally upsets my stomach to think about [Green Spring Racquet Club closing] since it's such a major player," said Clinton Kelly, president of the Greater Baltimore Tennis Patrons Association.

Nearby clubs, all of which are smaller than Green Spring, would struggle to accommodate the crush of players and pros, Kelly said. He's worried that his organization will no longer have the space to teach affordable classes to children from low-income families.

Tennis pros who work and teach there say they are trying to build connections with other clubs.

"Right now, I'm stuck. I'm debating where to go," said tennis pro Peter Dutton, who has taught at the club for more than eight years. "This is home for me. It doesn't get any sweeter than this."

Shriver, who now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three small children, said she hopes that the club will be preserved or a new one opened at another location.

"There's a little bit of a window for tennis folks and tennis leaders to figure out what can happen," she said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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