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No imminent plans to raze Roland Park's old water tower, city says

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Baltimore City has no imminent plans to raze the old water tower in Roland Park, despite stated fears by a community group that is trying to protect and renovate the north Baltimore landmark, city officials say.

But officials say the city plans to do a study to determine the marketability of the tower and other surplus city water properties.

A flier that Friends of the Roland Water Tower handed out during Tunes @ the Tower, a festival at the site June 4, stated, "The threat to the Roland Water Tower is imminent."

The flier continued. "The city has stated that the Bureau of Water and Wastewater will seek permission to demolish the facility if a reuse plan cannot move forward quickly."

"Now is the time to act," the flier stated. "Clearly, there is an urgent need to secure this historic structure before it is to late to save it."

"Imminent? No," countered Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works. "We realize it's a historic site."

But the city is concerned about the condition of the crumbling, 140-foot tall structure, at Roland Avenue and University Parkway, straddling the neighborhoods of Roland Park, Hoes Heights and Rolden.

The city earlier this year erected a fence around the 105-year-old tower, which is decaying partly because of a mound of pigeon guano that has accumulated over the years near the top.

It's one of several long-unused water facilities in the city that are "in the same situation," including the former Arlington Water Tower in west Baltimore and an old gatehouse in Clifton Park. Kocher said.

"Right now, the (Roland Park tower) is structually safe," he said. The question is, "How long until it becomes an imminent situation. Right now, it's not a threat to fall down, (but) it's been made clear that it can't stay there forever" unless is repaired and reused for some other purpose.

Kocher said the city's Department of General Services is resonsible for determining whether such structures are safe and marketable.

"We don't have any plans to demolish it," said Cathy Powell, a General Services spokeswoman. But there is a list of city landmarks that the department will be reviewing, she said.

"We're going to have a market study," she said. "We are looking at making good use of these landmarks."

The city's Board of Estimates is expected to choose a consultant for the study soon, and the study would be done this fall.

But there's also the question of whether there are realistic plans for reusing the facilities in other ways.

"They're interesting, but they don't serve a purpose," Kocher said.

""If there's a use for them, that would be easiest," Powell said.

In the case of the Roland Water Tower, community leaders including the Roland Park Civic League advocate raising the money to restore and renovate the structure for use as a museum of local history, and building a city park around it.

"Everybody would love that, if the funding could be found," Kocher said.

The flier handed out by Friends of the Roland Water Tower states that it would cost $1.2 million to restore it and build "a new pocket park and an enhanced community gathering space at its base."

Supporters continue to believe that the tower is in imminent danger of being razed unless plans for its future are approved, said Hoes Heights resident Matthew Fitzsimmons, a member of Friends of the Roland Water Tower and an urban planner for an architectural firm.

"In our opinion, it's always a constant threat," he said. "There's not imminent demolition plan, (but) that's not to say tomorrow there won't be, that the city will be willing to demolish it if something doesn't happen.

"It's a public safety issue."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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