Neighbors hoping to save open space

January 16, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

A park. A library. A medical facility for veterans. A bit of open space.

Long before Gov. Martin O'Malley announced yesterday the planned closure of the Rosewood Center, Owings Mills community leaders were talking about how the 300-acre property could be used.

"We've been talking about it for years," said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, an Owings Mills Democrat.

And, he said, everyone from the elected officials to the residents seems to agree that a park would be their top choice.

"No one wants to see that area developed the way the rest of Owings Mills has been," said Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, an Owings Mills Democrat.

A town hall meeting was planned for last night by a group of residents to discuss the future of the state-owned property and the county's rezoning process.

"We don't need any more condos," said Christy DiPietro, who lives nearby. "We think there are better uses for the land."

But community leaders say they have good reason to fear that the state might sell the sprawling Rosewood property -- it already has disposed of hundreds of acres.

The campus once included more than 600 acres of farmland and woodland, but the state has sold or donated about half of it over the past several decades.

Last year, the Shoshana S. Cardin School bought a 22-acre parcel of surplus Rosewood property for $550,000.

Barbie Prince, the head of school, said the organization hopes the new high school facility will be finished in the 2009-2010 school year.

While residents and elected officials say they do not oppose the idea of schools or similar uses, they pledged to scrutinize any proposals.

"The state should hold on to the property. If the state gives up now, they'll never be able to afford it again," Morhaim said.

In September 2001, the state sold about 105 acres at Rosewood for $2.2 million to Harrison Land Corp., an affiliate of two Owings Mills development companies. Homes were built on a 63-acre parcel at Gwynnbrook Avenue and Owings Mills Boulevard, a new synagogue was built on a 7.6-acre site and 34 acres of woodlands were preserved as part of the deal, according to news accounts in The Sun.

Elected officials said yesterday that it would be shortsighted for the state to sell the land for a quick cash infusion. And community leaders said that any residential or commercial development of Rosewood would hurt nearby neighborhoods.

"There is a woeful lack of parks in the area," Morhaim said.

For the state to sell the property, the Department of General Services would have to determine that the land was not needed by another state agency. The state Board of Public Works -- made up of the governor, comptroller and treasurer -- then would vote on whether to sell it.

In June 2004, Baltimore County purchased 16.2 acres of Rosewood property and several buildings to provide drug abuse treatment, according to Sun archives. The state sold the county the land for $128,952.

But county officials yesterday called it "premature" to discuss another such deal to buy Rosewood property, given that the plan is to phase out the facility's use over 18 months.

"There's ample time to evaluate what folks might want to see at Rosewood and what is fiscally responsible," said Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman.

Several years ago, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. appointed a task force made up of residents and business leaders to study ways to use property at the state-owned Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville, if it were ever not needed by the state.

But, "we're entering a very difficult fiscal time," Mohler said. "You have to look at everything through the lens that Baltimore County has already been cut $40 million in state funding."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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