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News Maryland Harford County Abingdon

Park land valuable and worth buying [Editorial]

A little more of a sense of urgency on the part of Harford County's government is called for on the purchase of land for parks, especially in areas that already are heavily populated.

Lately, two rather high profile cases have shown the county government, as a whole, is not as enthusiastic as it probably should be when it comes to securing land for recreational purposes.

One is the matter of a collection of properties at the northern end of Havre de Grace, where a waterfront park is envisioned. While the county administration had the vision and forethought to devise a purchase deal that is up for consideration by the Harford County Council, the council appears to be looking for reasons to reject buying the land.

Specifically, County Council President Billy Boniface said he has concerns about the $3.47 million purchase price of the roughly 5 acres in question, as well as about potential environmental cleanup costs, which he claims could add another $1 million to the price of the deal.

Also playing out in this case is a question, raised by Boniface, as to whether Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti has a legal conflict that would preclude her voting on the deal.

Boniface is correct to express concerns about costs. Any time the county is poised to spend a few million dollars, elected officials should be paying attention. In this case, however, waterfront land comes at a premium price in Maryland, and the potential benefits are likely to be enjoyed by people from across Harford County.

Potential environmental cleanup costs similarly need to be taken into account, considering the property's industrial past, but what was in place along Water Street is no more or less onerous than much of the other uses that have been undertaken in Havre de Grace over the years.

When it comes down to it, Lisanti's vote should be an afterthought in this matter as the purchase shouldn't be viewed as an expenditure of $3.47 million to a county with an annual general fund budget in the $400 million range, but rather as a one-time investment in parkland to be enjoyed forever.

Another matter a few miles to the south in the Route 40 corridor is the matter of the Mariner Point Swim Club.

Running an outdoor swimming pool as a business in this part of the country is a risky venture. The tradition in Maryland is for them to be open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which means the business venture is closed nine months every year. Often a more viable model is for private pools to be owned and operated as a private, not-for-profit organization. Still, the value of the land compared to the cost of running, maintaining and insuring a pool sometimes makes the finances of running a community pool daunting.

At the beginning of this past summer, it came to light that those realities had hit home on the Mariner Point pool and it was forced onto the market and became under contract to be bought by the Southern Baptist Church of Baltimore.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with what the church wanted to do with the property, but some in the community felt as though their community pool was being taken away from them. Possibly, the county could have been a bit more attuned to the situation and become involved earlier.

As things stood by the time the situation came to light, however, the property was under contract, which more or less tied the county government's hands in terms of becoming involved.

An opening appears to have arisen, however, insofar as the contract to purchase the property has been terminated by the Southern Baptist Church of Baltimore. While the church has expressed interest in continuing to pursue the land, that no contract is in place appears to open the door to the county becoming a suitor for the land.

It remains to be seen if the property would be a solid purchase for the county, but it has the potential to add greatly to a fine collection of recreational amenities in the Joppa-Joppatowne area.

It behooves the county government to be on the lookout for land that can be used for parks and recreation facilities.

While Harford County has many, the demand is great and satisfying this demand is as important a part of what county government is responsible for as are police protection and road maintenance.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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