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Mayor says councilman 'poisoned well' of debate on Patterson parking plan

FitnessKraft Foods Group Inc.Recreational and Sporting Goods IndustryJames B. KraftStephanie Rawlings-Blake

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday said Councilman James Kraft has unnecessarily riled up the community around Patterson Park over a preliminary proposal to build nearly 100 parking spaces in the park to accommodate a new senior center.

"Councilman Kraft ... went off into the community and made it seem as if this was a done deal, which it wasn't," Rawlings-Blake said after the city's Board of Estimates meeting. "It's unfortunate because he's poisoned the well for discussion about the future of the park."

The mayor said an expanded recreation center and a new community center in the park could provide activities residents would enjoy. These opportunities have been "overshadowed," she said, by the discussion about creating parking for them.

In response, Kraft said he was "disappointed" by the mayor's comments.

"Those clearly are not the facts," the councilman said. "The issue is a very, very simple one. No one wants any more cars, any more parking or any more paving in Patterson Park."

Neighbors around Patterson Park have made an uproar over a plan — which could add a paved road and 96 parking spaces inside the park — since Kraft told them about it this month. More than 4,500 people have signed an online petition against the proposal.

At Monday's city council meeting, Kraft spoke out against the proposal, which he noted was preliminary but said makes "absolutely no sense." He called the plan "tragic" and "ill-conceived."

Administration officials have said they are studying proposed changes shown on a map of the park that has circulated on neighborhood email lists. They emphasized that no final decisions have been made. A community meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Acting Parks Director Bill Vondrase said Wednesday the additional parking spaces might not be needed if community members assure city officials that everyone will walk to the two centers. He said expanded activities would involve programs for all ages, including exercise rooms, Zumba and spinning classes, volleyball and basketball leagues and computer labs.

"If we expand services, does everyone around Patterson Park say they're just going to walk and we don't need additional parking?" Vondrase asked. "If there are programs for young parents with young children, are they really going to walk to the community center? If a woman has yoga class that lets out at 8:30 at night, would she prefer to drive or does she feel safe to walk? How do you suggest that we solve this parking issue?"

A map prepared for the city by Hord Coplan Macht, an architecture firm, shows a widened entrance to the park at Baltimore Street and North Luzerne Avenue leading to a new loop road through the northwest section of the park. The loop road would lead to the park's Casino building, now used as an adult day care center, and then to the Virginia S. Baker Recreation Center. Along the way it would add 96 parking spaces. Currently, there are small parking areas at the two buildings with room for about a dozen cars.

The health department plans to close the John Booth Senior Center in Highlandtown and move its services to the 119-year-old Casino building, officials said, though no timeline has been set for that transition. Given that adults currently cared for in the building are mostly transported by bus, adding more senior-citizen services there could require more parking, officials said. The building is in the park's interior, about 200 yards from Baltimore Street.

The Baker Recreation Center, meanwhile, is slated for a $3 million renovation to be completed by summer 2014. As part of a plan the mayor says would maximize limited city resources, four West Baltimore recreation centers were closed this year, with $19 million being put toward building three new centers and renovating the Baker center.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FitnessKraft Foods Group Inc.Recreational and Sporting Goods IndustryJames B. KraftStephanie Rawlings-Blake
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