I grew up in Dundalk and began my career in recreation, parks, and conservation with the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks. My career took me to Harford County and Los Angeles. I came home to Baltimore County in 1995 as the director of Recreation and Parks. Throughout my career, I worked with staff, elected officials, volunteers and numerous citizen organizations in the purchase and development of neighborhood, community and regional parks, and I do not understand how our current Baltimore County government can decide to sell off a major community park for development.
As a county councilman, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was always supportive of Recreation and Parks and understood what constitutes a park. He also participated in the community meetings conducted when we acquired and/or planned the development of a new park. The lack of community involvement in this process is disturbing. However, the selling off of any park land for private development should alarm citizens and community volunteers throughout the county and the state of Maryland.
Parks departments often purchase property for future development and wait for planned communities prior to meeting with citizens to create park plans. If government can sell off existing park sites — and the North Point Government Center is a park — what may happen to undeveloped future protected sites?
I understand the Board of Recreation and Parks will not be discussing this issue because neither the board nor the department has any say in the sale of North Point or any other property. While we know the board is advisory, shouldn't they have concern and offer advice related to the disposition of park land? The volunteers who donate thousands of hours of their time to our parks deserve to know who is making these decisions and how to make their voice heard. Members of the Recreation and Parks Board need to speak up and review the implications of these actions and advise the department and county administration of the direction they recommend.
Our state representatives need to step in also. I have inquired and am aware that park lands have been converted for other public uses (libraries, schools, etc.). However, I do not find a precedence for converting park land for private commercial use. State Program Open Space funds were used in 1984, 1997 and 2011 on the North Point Government Center property. These state expenditures were intended to offer expanded recreational opportunities for current as well as future generations.
I am very disappointed with the cavalier way our county elected officials and administration have approached this extremely important issue and encourage you to reconsider these actions. I will make myself available to meet and discuss these issues (county park lands-and their value to various communities, future use of fields and indoor areas at Eastwood Elementary School, and the Mays Chapel Park site) with the county executive and whoever is advising him. These are our parks — we need to preserve and protect them for present and future generations.
John Weber, Baltimore
The writer is the former Baltimore County director of Recreation and Parks.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun