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Balto. Co. wants to build regional park on Spring Grove tract

Baltimore County officials want to create a regional park on a piece of the Spring Grove Hospital Center campus in Catonsville, property that the University of Maryland, Baltimore County also has been eyeing to expand research facilities.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said Thursday he is working with state officials to secure an 8.8-acre parcel that's no longer used by the state psychiatric facility.

Spring Grove is a 425-bed hospital providing inpatient psychiatric services for adults and adolescents. In recent years, the state has studied how it could consolidate operations onto a smaller portion of 190-acre campus, which dates to the late 19th century.

State officials told the county in January that a parcel including the Hamilton Building in the hospital complex would be declared surplus. The state Department of Planning recommended "joint uses" of the property by the university and the county.

County officials want the property for a park, but Kamenetz said in a statement, "It is far too early to talk about the specific scope of the project."

"There are significant funding issues to address and we have not had any discussions with UMBC officials yet regarding shared use of the property," he said.

UMBC has expressed interest in building research facilities and expanding its existing research and technology park to Spring Grove. UMBC spokeswoman Elyse Ashburn said the school learned of the state's intentions to declare the property surplus late last year but does not know what the county's park plan might mean.

"We just learned of this development, and we've not had an opportunity to talk to our partners in Baltimore County," she said.

County Council Chairman Tom Quirk said he believes a park at Spring Grove would increase local residents' property values, give children more recreational space and bring other benefits to the community.

"People want to live by these kinds of amenities," said Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat.

In a statement, Del. Adrienne Jones said the area needs more play space, and a park "will be great for the thousands of boys and girls participating in recreation programs."

Many of Spring Grove's buildings are in poor condition, according to a 2011 study prepared for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Maryland Economic Development Corp. The campus layout "no longer meets clinical treatment and security needs of patients," the study said.

The fate of Spring Grove has long been of interest to the county, UMBC, neighbors and potential developers. Quirk said discussion about the campus, which is south of Frederick Road and a block from the Beltway, has "consumed countless hours" of community debate.

The property "has been a big question mark," said Mike Milani, a member of the Catonsville Recreation Council. He said a park would go a long way in providing recreation opportunities to local residents.

"There are no regional parks in the southwest corner" of the county, he said.

The 2011 study notes state recommendations that counties should have 30 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. Baltimore County falls short of that goal, with an average of 21.9 acres. The Catonsville area has about 21.7 acres of parks per 1,000 residents.

County officials said Thursday they plan to seek authorization from the state Department of Natural Resources to use funds from the Open Space program to knock down the building on the site and create the park. It is too early to know how much money would be needed, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

Now that the state planning department has recommended declaring the propery surplus, the matter goes to the Department of General Services, said state Assistant Secretary of Planning Linda Janey. General Services, which handles real estate matters, has three years to forward the issue to the state Board of Public Works, which makes decision on the disposition of state property, Janey said.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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