Towson residents proud to make space for Green Jacket

"It's a great honor. ... Now that the fall weather is coming on, I'll be wearing it."

Paul Hartman wasn't expecting the phone call. It came out of the blue, about a week before the event, to inform him that NeighborSpace had chosen him to receive this year's Green Jacket Award.

"It's a great honor," said Hartman, a Towson resident, founder and president of a computer company and, for the purposes of the award, immediate past president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations (GTCCA), a coalition of area community groups.

"NeighborSpace does a lot of good work for green open space in Baltimore County. It also does surveys to better target areas to preserve," said Hartman, whose GTCCA has been involved in a debate about land use issues in Towson. As webmaster of GTCCA's website, he has been posting articles and commentary about the issue.

Hartman was one of three recipients of the 2015 Green Jacket Award. The others were Michael Ertel, GTCCA's president who has been leading the debate, and Wendy Jacobs, co-founder of the Green Towson Alliance (GTA), an environmental group.

NeighborSpace is a nonprofit that helps local groups find, protect and improve land for parks, gardens, trails and natural areas. Its focus is on land within the county's URDL (urban-rural demarcation line), the traditional separation between suburban and rural areas. The award ceremony was held last month in a private home.

The Green Jacket Award is given annually "to people and organizations that support our mission," said Klaus Philipsen, NeighborSpace's board president. "We want to recognize them."

The board chooses the award recipients. "We don't limit the number" of winners," said Philipsen. "We respond to what seem obvious choices depending on what is happening in any given year."

This year, the debate about county-required open space for development, and particularly developers' fees in lieu of open space, has taken center stage in the County Council and with community organizations like GTCCA.

"We have a lot of contact with organizations in Towson. They care about open space in Towson. That's why the Green Jackets this year focus on the Towson area," Philipsen said of the award. which is a bright kelly green zip-up jacket.

"It's nice," Hartman said of the jacket. "Now that the fall weather is coming on, I'll be wearing it."

Like Hartman, Ertel said the NeighborSpace award came as a surprise. "It's always nice to be recognized," said Ertel, a Towson resident and businessman.

With regard to GTCCA's involvement in the debate over open space plans in the development of downtown Towson, Ertel said, "There is no green space in [downtown] Towson to take a walk.".

The county sets the in-lieu-of-open-space fee and assesses what the developer should pay. "Most developers pay zero or a minimal fee," Ertel said. "Yet it is apparent to people that apartment buildings [already built or planned] add scores of people to Towson. The fees help buy land."

Ertel contends that the popularity of girls sports has made the situation in Towson even more urgent with regard to fields.

"They're sufficient for boys teams but [don't account] for the increase in girls teams," he said. "We have to increase the infrastructure" to accommodate the popularity of girls sports.

Wendy Jacobs said that the Green Towson Alliance's activities range from stream cleanups to public policy statements. GTA is in the process of planning a series of interconnected trails that would wend through various Towson neighborhoods.

"We've applied for a grant from the National Park Service," said Jacobs. "But we'll go ahead with it, with or without the grant."

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