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Nonprofit NeighborSpace on verge of adding undeveloped land

In 1921, the Baltimore County Water and Electric Co. deeded an 11-acre lot the southern end of Maple Avenue to the city of Baltimore, according to a release from NeighborSpace, a Baltimore County nonprofit.

Ninety years later, that property may transfer back to the county to be preserved as an undeveloped area, according to the release.

NeighborSpace, which acquires property to prevent it from being developed, announced June 21 it is on the verge of obtaining the site, which would act as an outdoor recreation area.

"It's a phenomenal thing," said NeighborSpace president, John Murphy, who hosted the fundraiser at his home on North Rolling Road, attended by nearly 40 people, where the announcement was made.

"The whole community would benefit by a lake, by trails, by all these things," Murphy said.

According to the release, a pending contract of sale will result in the city transferring the land "as is" back to the county for $1.

The county would transfer the property, at the end of the road off Frederick Road between the intersections of North and South Rolling roads, to the nonprofit organization once the property passes the county's environmental assessment.

"I'm hopeful that Baltimore County will feel very comfortable taking title to it," said Murphy, a Catonsville resident for the past 37 years.

Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman, said the environmental assessment would research previous uses of the site and examine it to determine its geography, soil topography, vegetation and what waste has been dumped there.

The assessment will begin, Kobler said, once the county receives permission from the Office of the Comptroller of Baltimore City.

"We don't have reason to think there's a problem," Kobler said.

If the transfer is accepted, the county will offer an easement to NeighborSpace, which currently has nine properties in Baltimore County, that will prevent development on the property.

Discovering the property

The ball started rolling on this process about 10 years ago, after Catonsville resident Joe Gochar had grown tired of watching the dwindling parcels of undeveloped land in Catonsville succumb to bulldozers.

Gochar said that as he pored over state property records, he noticed a parcel on Maple that didn't have a plat number.

The plat number is used to identify a property using tax records.

"It's really a very historically significant piece of land, for the Catonsville area anyway," Gochar said, noting that it was once the site of a saw mill.

Encouraged by some older Catonsville residents, Gochar contacted the city of Baltimore to determine if the city owned the land.

The city responded by letter it did not.

Eventually, however, Gochar learned that the city did indeed have ownership, and it was willing to transfer the property to the county.

Gochar said he contacted the state park service and learned that because the land did not touch the boundaries of Patapsco Valley State Park, the state park service didn't have interest in it.

Having worked with NeighborSpace after learning about the organization a few years ago, he contacted the nonprofit.

Gochar said the wait for the transfer of the property has been "very frustrating," but is looking forward to what could be.

"I would definitely like to see the lake put back together, which would mean clearing some of the trees that have grown where the lake was," Gochar said.

"Having a lake in Catonsville with walking trails around it I think would be a real nice addition to Catonsville," he said.

Local reaction

Gochar isn't the only one looking forward to the project.

Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District, which includes Catonsville; and Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District, which includes Perry Hall, White Marsh and part of Towson, as well as residents of Maple Avenue are also excited about the prospects.

Quirk attended last week's meeting and spoke about his support of NeighborSpace and this project.

"There's a lot of anxiety toward development," Quirk told the group at the fundraiser. "Sure, we're all concerned about traffic and school overcrowding; but on a more visceral level, we're concerned over the loss of what we used to consider a public good."

Having the property protected from development could open it to NeighborSpace's goal of turning the property into a recreational outdoors area with walking trails and a place to swim.

Though only streams are currently in the area, representatives of NeighborSpace expressed hope an existing dam could be closed to create a lake.

"I would be in favor of any preservation of land rather than development," said Chris Brupbacher, who has lived on Maple Avenue for 27 years.

Brupbacher said she would definitely utilize the proposed walking trails if they were developed.

Brupbacher's neighbor across the street, Jim Remeikis, said he would also enjoy walking the trails and anticipated bringing his dogs along.

Though, both were concerned by the potential of increased traffic on the narrow street, Remeikis, who has lived on Maple Avenue for 43 years, said it likely won't be a problem.

"People utilize places like that tend to be a little more respectful," Remeikis said. "They appreciate having a recreational area, so they sort of protect it."

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