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Hudson's Corner: $10 million for club land is a lot of money, but it buys peace of mind

It was almost deja vu. Tuesday, May 22 was the annual meeting of the Roland Park Civic League. Many of the same people who spoke at the October 2008, standing-room-only meeting at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, spoke there again: Civic League President Philip Spevak; Libby Bowerman, former CEO of Keswick Multi Care Center; Mary Page Michel, a community leader and Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton. Baltimore Country Club officials were on hand, too. Ditto the press and other elected officials.

This time the civic league, however, was not opposing Keswick in its plan to purchase 17 acres of Baltimore Country Club land but honoring Bowerman for outstanding community service. Bowerman recently retired from Keswick after 13 years as chief executive officer of this longtime neighborhood institution

There was none of the previous acrimony between the league and BCC officials, only an announcement from Spevak and Michel that the community plans to raise $10 million to purchase the land, complete fundraising efforts for Stony Run and Roland Water Tower restoration and create an endowment for maintenance.

Ten million is a hefty sum. It is almost equal to all projects initiated by Roland Park in recent years: expansion of the Roland Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, renovation of the neighborhood fire station, upcoming improvements to Stony Run and the water tower and a transportation initiative to increase area traffic safety, and to resurface and beautify Roland Avenue, Wyndhurst and Cold Spring Lane.

For the 1,050 Roland Park households to raise that amount of money will take "personal sacrifice," Spevak said. And sacrifice we should.

It is a no-brainer that this pristine land should be preserved. The area is what it is because green space was an integral part of its original design. That is what the community fought for four years ago. It is what every person who protested the proposed Keswick purchase should work for now, dipping deep into our own pockets and helping those leading the fundraising to find other funding sources for land preservation.

To dedicate ourselves to raising $10 million is a matter of environmental stewardship. Area residents have the brainpower, connections and financial resources to raise this kind of money. This $10 million could actually make a long-lasting difference in air and water quality, not just in this neighborhood but also in adjacent neighborhoods and the city.

It is also a matter of preserving and enhancing the economic value of green space in the neighborhood and city. By Roland Park undertaking this effort, the community is again taking leadership in the city. Baltimore has many fine parks but it currently lacks resources and the priority to preserve and maintain them so that they become economic draws. Look what happened when Patterson Park was renovated.

Green space is known to increase city property values and to attract residents. Roland Park now pays more than $12 million a year in property taxes, with a property tax base of $565 million. If open green space goes, surrounding properties will depreciate. Think of the difference in property values in Homeland around the Lakes and in Guilford around Sherwood Gardens. If I were a club member, I would want to continue looking out at a lush hillside, not institutional rooftops.

Cities like Philadelphia, Portland and Minneapolis are working to create more open space to enrich the quality of life, improve the environment, decrease crime and attract "the creative class," according to Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc., who spoke at the May 22 meeting on the economic value of open space.

Why, when it is well documented how valuable to a city open space is, would our community not make every effort, and sacrifice, to raise $10 million to buy the country club land and preserve it?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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