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Residents hold rush-hour rally to protect Towson Manor Village park

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As Towson residents, young and old, stood on the corner of York Road and Towsontown Boulevard on Thursday afternoon protesting the county's proposed plan to build a firehouse at Towson Manor Park, an ambulance streaked past with its siren blaring en route to an emergency.

The noise canceled out the cries of the protesters, who passed out fliers, held signs and chanted for nearly an hour to raise awareness about the plan and build support to save their park.

"They can't hear us right now," Megan Saunders, a mother of four who organized the rally, said of the passing sirens moments later. "That's kind of what we're getting at."

Joined by community association leaders and 42nd District Sen. Jim Brochin, scores of neighbors were seeking to raise their collective voice above the rush-hour noise to declare that Towson Manor Park should remain a park and not be razed and become the site of a new fire station.

Earlier this week, Baltimore County announced that the park, located at the corner of Virginia Avenue and East Towsontown Boulevard, was a potential location for a new firehouse. The county is proposing that the decades-old fire station on York Road and Bosley Avenue be knocked down, with the property sold for development.

Community members became aware of the proposal earlier this month when they learned from Brochin, who lives in the neighborhood, that it was presented, as Brochin said, as a "done deal."

"As a community, we came together and decided we're going to speak up, stand up for ourselves and communicate that this is a valued park," Saunders said after the crowd had gathered in the park. "The community needs this green space … . We don't have extra of this, and we don't want to build a firehouse on the limited space we have."

Towson Manor Village residents have used modern methods of communication, like social media and neighborhood email chains, to grow their support base thus far. But at the rally, they rang bells and whistled to draw attention to the issue. .

Beth Clifford, who was handing out fliers to passing motorists, said many had been "really supportive."

"I think a lot of people care, but they're not sure how to help," she said.

Those who lined the sidewalk for the rally were helping in the way they knew best — in person, and as a community.

"Having a playground is the difference between a neighborhood and a community," Omi May, who lives down the street from the park, said. May brings her grandson to the park, and has grown to know other young mothers in the neighborhood as they all visit the park.

For the children who bundled up to support the cause, the rush-hour rally was an effective, hands-on civics lesson, parent Maureen Zingo said.

Zingo's daughters, Mae, 11, and Lily, 7, were front and center of the rally with a sign asking Santa Claus to keep their park a park.

"They love this park," Maureen Zingo said. "They made this sign themselves. They're passionate about it. This is a park my kids met their best friends at, so I think it's a good lesson for them."

Earlier in the day, Kamenetz said during a press conference that officials "are continuing to investigate alternative sites" through engineering, surveying, and cost analysis and that they hope to finish that work within the next four weeks.

"I really appreciate their concerns," he said of residents who oppose moving the fire station to the park. "We don't have any desire to take away people's parks, but we also have to make fiscal decisions that are in the best interests of the taxpayer."

Kamenetz said that if the station were relocated to Towson Manor Park, the county "would substitute it with another park."

But Brochin believes the solution won't come quickly.

"We all know we're in this for the long term.

"For some reason, they're not backing off the site," he said. "I think it'll get clearer if we have to take it to the courthouse. I think that's where eventually we're going to end up."

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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