Relay residents launch drive to purchase 24-acre tract for park


For months, state officials have warned that the recession has dried up money to buy land for future parks.

In Relay, they've been listening.

The Relay Community Association last week launched a fund-raising effort aimed at purchasing a 24-acre tract along Cedar Avenue and Metropolitan Boulevard as a future park.

Residents say that with the shortfall in state open-space money, they are going to have to raise part of the estimated $400,000 price tag themselves.

"The message that we're getting is that we're going to be pretty much on our own here," said Anne Heinrichs, vice president of the Relay Community Association.

Mrs. Heinrichs, who is overseeing the fund-raising efforts, said that a bank account will be set up for donations and that various types of fund-raisers may be held in the months ahead.

Corporations with facilities in the community, such as the Calvert Distilling Co. and Martin Marietta Laboratories, most likely will be solicited for contributions, she said.

All donations will be returned if plans to purchase the land fall through, she said.

The tract, one of the last undeveloped parcels in the area, is owned by the family of Carl Julio and is zoned for residential development, meaning that it could become the site of 235 apartments if developed, according to county council records.

To prevent that, neighbors are trying to raise money that will supplement the $100,000 pledged so far by Baltimore County officials.

"We've just got to get our thinking caps and come up with ideas on a large scale if we're going to save this property," she said.

Baltimore County Administrator Merreen Kelly told the County Council last week that it may set aside even more funds next year.

"We intend to find that money," Mr. Kelly said. Based on that, the council passed a resolution "reserving" the tract, a designation that prevents it from being developed for 18 months while the county negotiates with the owner.

Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, who represents the community, told Relay residents that if they wanted to save the Julio property they would have to put up some of their own money.

"I said, 'Let's prove that we really want the property; let's put our own financial commitment,' " said Mrs. Manley, who plunked down $1,000 of her own cash as the first donation.

Mrs. Manley said she's been encouraged by efforts so far -- despite a recession that has dried up state money for parkland acquisition.

State legislators learned in May that the recession was pummeling income and sales-tax receipts, along with other sources of state revenue, putting the state budget as much as $109 million in the red.

To get the spending plan back into balance, as required by the Maryland Constitution, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislative lead- ers agreed to belt-tightening measures and transfers from special funds that would raise $125 mil- lion.

The plan called for a variety of transfers, including taking a total of $30.9 million from all open-space programs.

State officials will not know how much of that $125 million they actually need until the state closes its books in mid-August.

So after intensive lobbying to save open-space funds, the General Assembly agreed when it put the $125 million savings plan into the law, to specify that if the entire amount is not needed, the first $11.9 million available will go back to the local open-space program to cover what is already committed to property purchases.

In Relay, residents say that with such an uncertain fiscal picture for state open-space money, they feel compelled to raise funds on their own.

If nothing else, it will help them lobby Baltimore County for more money.

"I certainly hope we're successful with this, because people have some real valid concerns for saving this property," said Mrs. Heinrichs. "It's an older community, with older houses. Seeing a new community go up right in the middle of it just wouldn't be compatible with what's here."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad