Baltimore Country Club, one of the oldest and largest private recreational facilities in the region, has received approval from its membership to sell 20 acres of land at its Roland Park campus to fund improvements at its Timonium site.
The club has considered selling portions of the 32 total acres a number of times over the years, sparking tensions within the community about potential ownership and usage. Neighbors protested after Keswick Multi-Care Center proposed building a retirement facility there in 2008.
Cushman & Wakefield, the firm overseeing the sale, has engaged in conversations with the Roland Park Civic League and the Roland Park Community Foundation about purchasing the property and will give them an opportunity to make an offer, said David Baird, a managing director of the company’s Baltimore office.
“It’s an irreplaceable piece of land on the market,” Baird said. “We’re confident there will be a lot of activity on the property.”
The land runs from its clubhouse on Club Road in Roland Park down to Falls Road, across from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Western High School’s athletic fields. The club’s former golf course spread across both sides of Falls Road before the club closed it and built a new one in Timonium, selling the land on the west side of Falls Road for the high schools and Cross Keys development in the 1960s.
Baltimore Country Club will continue to use the remaining campus space, which includes the clubhouse, for events, dining and other needs.
Hap Cooper, a member of the Roland Community Foundation, said the community has been interested in purchasing the property for nearly 25 years. Should they buy it, the land would be used as public green space, he said.
“The Roland Park Community Foundation is an ideal buyer for this parcel, because a park is permitted under current zoning, and we have strong community support,” Cooper said in an email. “We will be offering a market price, and we are the most certain and reliable potential buyer.”
The land is situated within a city zoning code that allows for low-density neighborhoods of detached houses located upon lots 14,520 square feet or more. There are limited nonresidential uses permitted.
Cooper said the park would include mostly open, passive recreation areas, potentially with a playground, a pavilion, playing fields for baseball and soccer, and perhaps pickleball and tennis courts. A small amphitheater for outdoor performances has been discussed, he said, and would be pursued should it garner community support.
A buyer who suggests a change in the zoning code would be met with opposition, Cooper said.
“The neighborhood has a long past of exclusion and the mission of this project is to create a space of inclusion,” Cooper added. “The pandemic has made clear the vast divides in our world, but preserving and sharing nature is a great equalizer for the benefit of all Baltimore City residents.”
The country club and the surrounding Roland Park neighborhood both have histories with elements of racial and ethnic exclusion and insensitivity.
The original developers of the neighborhood included a racially restrictive clause in house deeds that barred “Negroes or persons of African descent” from purchasing homes, a practice that the Supreme Court ruled unenforceable by 1948. The club, meanwhile, had a reputation of not welcoming Black people or Jewish people.
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In 1995, the club admitted its first Black family, and it has since hosted high holiday services for the Jewish community.
John Maroon, spokesman for Baltimore Country Club, said the Timonium site’s master plan will be implemented over a number of years. The club will expand the Baltimore County clubhouse into space for “exemplary indoor and outdoor dining and experiences as well as new and expanded kitchen facilities,” he said.
The club opted to invest in the Timonium site rather than the city site due to its size, Maroon said, with the Baltimore County property “significantly larger and more flexible than the limited property and space at Roland Park.”
Founded in 1898, the country club maintains a strong membership, which overwhelmingly supports the prospect of selling the land, Maroon said. It hosted the U.S. Open golf tournament at the Roland Park campus in 1899, and also operates pools, racket sports and duckpin bowling. The club employs about 400 people between both campuses, Maroon said.
The sale also comes as available housing inventory in the Baltimore area plummets to record lows due to a combination of land scarcity and the conditions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Limited housing supply has driven up prices, and more properties are selling in bidding wars.
Baird said the market for higher-end homes has improved over the course of the pandemic as those who have maintained steady incomes capitalize on historically low mortgage interest rates and seek opportunities to invest in more at-home office and leisure space.
“Different parties have different development plans,” Baird said. “We’re going to see what the market brings.”