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Legislators seek state money for Radebaugh park project in Towson

Legislators seek state money for Radebaugh park project in Towson
Rick Kiegel, president of the Anneslie Community Association, and fellow supporters of the Radebaugh Park proposal, gather at the Baltimore County Council meeting Monday. (Phil Grout / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Two state legislators are filing bond bills to help Baltimore County buy property owned by Radebaugh Florist & Greenhouses, in Towson, for use as a county park.

Meanwhile, community leaders and environmental activists are stepping up pressure on the county to acquire the land, including testifying and holding signs of support at a County Council meeting on Monday night.

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State Sen. James Brochin said last week he filed a bill in the General Assembly seeking up to $200,000 "at the request of the community," and that the legislation would require matching funds from the county or the community. Brochin's bill authorizes a state loan called the Radebaugh Park Loan of 2016, and the issuance and sale of bonds.

Brochin's bill stipulates that the money would be used as a grant to the county executive's office and the County Council. Turning the site into open space is important in "land-locked" Towson because, "To have another park and another place for parents to play with their kids doesn't come up every day," he said.

Del. Steve Lafferty said Monday he has requested that a similar bill be crossed-filed in the House of Delegates.

Lafferty and Brochin are interceding in troubled negotiations between the county government and the Radebaugh family over the purchase price of the 2.5-acre, family-owned property, which contains several greenhouses and is located at 50 Aigburth Ave. The county would use Program Open Space funding to preserve the parcel from potential development.

The Radebaugh land purchase is prioritized in a bill by County Councilman David Marks that the council passed Dec. 21, requiring that developers of residential projects in downtown Towson pay $2,000 per unit in open space waiver fees, unless they create open space as part of the projects.

The sale of the Radebaugh property has been expected since last June, when County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans to acquire the acreage. But an attorney for the Radebaugh family called the announcement "premature" and, seven months later, the sale has yet to be finalized.

Kamenetz is balking at paying as much as $500,000 that he has said it would cost to demolish the greenhouses, because Program Open Space doesn't cover demolition costs, according to Marks, who represents Towson and is pushing for the county to buy the land.

Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Kamenetz said last week, "We are continuing to negotiate," and that Kamenetz "has been in direct communication with Del. Lafferty and supports his efforts."

Marks has said he believes the county's estimate of the purchase price is too high, a claim buttressed by Kaitlin Radebaugh, sales manager for Radebaugh Florist & Greenhouses, in a Dec. 30 letter to Marks.

The letter states that the family solicited a cost estimate from Urland Development — "since we have yet to hear back from the county regarding the purchase" — and that the "quote" from Urland was $143,665.79, "considerably less" than the county's estimate.

"We thought we would share [the Urland estimate] with you, since this seems to be the only issue holding up the purchase," the letter states. "The overwhelming community support for this endeavor is the reason we continue to consider this option ahead of other options with developers."

Brochin said he, too, is mindful of the community's support.

"As a senator, I have a priority list," he said. "This is at the top of my list."

Also lobbying for the sale are community leaders and local environmental activists, including the Green Towson Alliance.

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"The time has come for Kevin Kamenetz to keep his word and purchase the Radebaugh property to create a community park," the alliance said in a press release Jan. 28, urging people to come to Monday's County Council meeting.

The purpose of the gathering was to "keep the issue from disappearing," said alliance member and organizer of the gathering, Beth Miller, of Anneslie. "We just want to make sure that [Kamenetz] keeps hearing that we want this park."

Miller questioned Kamenetz's contention that negotiations are ongoing.

"It doesn't sound like an ongoing negotiation if the Radebaughs haven't heard from him," she said.

At the council meeting, a contingent of about a dozen people held signs that read, "Give us our park," and "Green space is a public good."

Miller was one of four community leaders who testified in support of the county buying the property. She said the council appears to be determined to hold up approval of another open space project, to redesign Patriot Plaza in Towson, until Kamenetz acts on the sale of the Radebaugh land, but that she supports both projects and doesn't want to have to choose between them.

Marks said after the meeting that he supports both projects, but that the Radebaugh park project is more important because the land has to be acquired by the county.

"Some of my colleagues believe that holding up a vote on Patriot Plaza may help" to convince Kamenetz to purchase the Radebaugh land, Marks said, adding that he thinks they would approve the Patriot Plaza plans if the county buys the Radebaugh land. "I am doing everything in my power to get the Radebaugh acquisition."

Others testifying before the council included Joe La Bella, president of Towson Manor Village, Inc. He asked the council to halt any further approval of development projects in Towson until the county approves the purchase of the Radebaugh property.

Paul Hartman, vice president of the Aigburth Manor Association of Towson, Inc., and vice president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, urged the County Council to help push for the sale.

"We're hopeful that some pressure can be exerted to move this project forward," Hartman said.

Greg Bauer, president of the Burkleigh Square Community Association, said more open space is needed in fast-developing Towson.

"Every time we turn around, there's more pavement," he said, quoting the Joni Mitchell song, "Big Yellow Taxi."

"You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," he said. "We've paved paradise."

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