Group draws attention to a long-vacant lot in Charles Village

The way Nolen Strals sees it, if Johns Hopkins University is just going to sit on the fenced, vacant lot it owns at St. Paul and 32nd streets, why can't he?

That's exactly what the 33-year-old graphic designer did on a sunny Sunday in Charles Village. He was one of 25 Facebook friends who brought babies, footballs and Frisbees, threw down blankets and towels and spent the afternoon lounging on the grassy lot, where Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse once planned to build The Olmsted, an $83 million, mixed-use development of condos, stores and a wraparound garage on the site where student housing and the University Mini-Mart used to be (it's now across the street).

Struggling Struever Bros. sold the lot to Hopkins in 2009 for a reported $12.5 million, but the university has done nothing with it to date, or announced any plans for its future use. When asked during the recent Convergence Festival on the same block if the university had a plan for the parcel, Salem Reiner, director of Hopkins' Office of Community Affairs, said officials were still deciding on a use.

Strals had designs on it Sunday, if only to make a point. He and the others said they weren't affiliated with Occupy Baltimore, a group rallying downtown to protest corporate greed, but were trying to draw attention to the lot owner's inattention.

"A bunch of us have lived in the neighborhood or still do, and have been angry, first off, that they tore down the block, and secondly, didn't do anything with it. It just seems like a waste of space."

And he said it seemed like a good idea to camp out there.

"We're not protesting," said Strals, a former Charles Village resident who now lives in Mount Vernon "We're just having a picnic. We just wanted it to be something. People used to live here. There used to be businesses. Now, it's just a hole. "

Besides, he noted, "It looks like a park now."

Frank Hamilton, a City Paper graphic designer and photographer, brought his wife, Kim, and their daughter, just-turned-1 Olivia.

"It's her first quasi-political action," he quipped.

Hamilton, too, is angry about the lot.

"It's an awesome space that has just been sitting there," he said. "I mean, there's a 10-foot fence around a piece of grass."

Jenny Ferretti, 26, of Hampden, was there with her dog, Penny.

"I like the idea of taking back a space that's open and hanging out in a park with my dog," said Ferretti, who works for the Maryland Historical Society.

"I don't think we're trying to make a huge political statement," said graphic designer Bruce Willen, 30, of Old Goucher. "But that's the undertone to this."

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