Once infamous for gasoline in its groundwater, a 2-acre site is generating excitement as a sorely needed neighborhood park.
"This is the biggest thing to happen in the neighborhood since it was built in the early 1940s," said Mandy Stepp, president of the Ridgely Manor Community Association. She recently was walking around the neighborhood of 206 brick duplexes, putting up signs announcing the grand opening of the new Ridgely Manor Park on Aug. 30. She said all households have received a personal invitation.
Ground was officially broken on the Yakona Road site in May, ending five years of community frustration over flooding problems and contamination from a nearby Hess station.
"That area has been a problem for the neighborhood for some time," Stepp said at the May groundbreaking ceremony. Frustration led to a lawsuit against Hess, the involvement of a Baltimore County councilman and the founding of the community association, now about a year old.
The park was a joint project of the Hess Corp., NeighborSpace of Baltimore County and the community association, with a lot of help from County Councilman David Marks.
"In the four years I have been in office, this is one of the projects I'm proudest of working on," Marks said. "It's just a great story."
The story began in 2009, when residents filed suit against Hess, contending that a leaky underground gasoline storage tank at the Hess station in the 1600 block of East Joppa Road caused health and environmental hazards in the community — including smelly basements — and that the problem dated to the late 1980s.
Hess settled the suit in 2012, purchasing 16 houses on the site, tearing them down, cleaning up the site and working with residents and NeighborSpace in a series of charrettes, or community meetings, to determine the best use for the land. The community association formed soon afterward.
NeighborSpace Executive Director Barbara Hopkins said the nonprofit land trust wanted to preserve the land as public open space in perpetuity.
"That was attractive to the Hess Corp.," said Hopkins, a landscape architect who lives in Parkville, about 4 miles from the park. "They wanted to make sure their investment was a lasting one."
For now, New York-based Hess owns the park and has agreed to maintain it for the next 10 years, Hopkins said. After that, NeighborSpace will own and maintain it, she said.
Hess spokesman Denny Moynihan said that ultimately, Hess will turn over title to the property to NeighborSpace and help fund the maintenance of it going forward. He said that Hess and NeighborSpace are in discussions about details of the arrangement.
Moynihan would not say how much Hess paid to build the park.
Moynihan praised Marks, Hopkins and Stepp and said, "It truly has been a partnership. We're as excited as they are for the opening."
Hopkins said the park is important as a community resource, because there is a dearth of parks, trails and open space in general, and because studies show that well-planned, well-developed open space can increase property values.
"It's enormous for this area," she said.
"That is an area that could benefit from a park," agreed Marks. He said it also has symbolic importance as the first park built along the Loch Raven Boulevard corridor in 50 years.
"The corridor has not been a priority for open space," Marks said.
Stepp, a six-year resident on Ridgely Manor, said it's a godsend for the neighborhood of four blocks, bounded on the north by Joppa Road, on the east by Loch Raven Boulevard, on the west by Pleasant Plains Road and on the south by Mussula Road near Putty Hill Road.
Before the new park, the nearest parks were at Pleasant Plains Elementary School, which she said is "walkable on a good day" — and a park in the Ridgeleigh neighborhood.
Ridgely Manor was built for families of employees of the old Bendix Corp, Stepp said.
"Parks were not something people thought of in the '40s," she said.
Today, the neighborhood is more diverse, with everyone from young professionals to plumbers to retirees.
"If you can't find somebody in this neighborhood to do what you need done, it's rare," said Stepp, 38, an account executive for a marketing company, who grew up in Homeland and now lives on Naturo Road with her border collie, Skylar and her beagle, Max.
Though not open yet, the park is proving to be more than a source of community pride. Stepp said she has been chatting with neighbors she never met before and membership in the community association is growing, with 26 households currently.
"We're getting ready to do a big membership push," she said.