Insult to injury

August 23, 2007

Residents of the 19th century mill town of Woodberry, nestled in the Jones Falls Valley, barely had time to mourn the loss of 19 acres of woodlands when they learned that an extra 50,000 square feet of old forest had been illegally cleared as well.

Loyola College, which is clearing the land southwest of Cold Spring Lane and the Jones Falls Expressway to build a new stadium, has paid a $30,000 fine and promised to replant the extra acre or so that a spokeswoman said was "disturbed inadvertently."

But the woes of Woodberry, as reported by The Sun's Alia Malik, can't be cured so easily. This is a community that has been poorly served by city officials charged with representing its interests when they came in conflict with a powerful and well-connected Baltimore institution.

In fact, the devastation of the Woodberry woods offers a cautionary tale of the challenges that lie ahead as Baltimore and the rest of Maryland work to preserve and even expand open space and tree canopy, which is becoming an increasingly scarce environmental necessity.

Loyola's plan to build an athletic complex on 50 acres of city-owned property was hotly contested from the start by environmentalists and residents of adjacent communities. The project won City Council approval five years ago by the barest of majorities, with opponents, including then-City Council President Sheila Dixon, expressing concern that the facility was to be built atop two landfills.

To cool the opposition, Loyola scaled back the project and agreed to spare the better half of 38 acres of trees as part of its forest conservation plan. But in Loyola's request for a city permit last year, the protected area had shrunk. Gary Letteron, a city planner new to the project, failed to spot the change and granted the permit. Local residents didn't learn what happened until the forest clearing was done last winter.

City officials are going to have to be far more rigorous in protecting what's left of Baltimore's green space in order to achieve its goal of doubling the tree canopy within 30 years.

Loyola should help by being as generous as possible in restoring what it "inadvertently" destroyed.

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