Planners' draft protects green space


Harford planners expect that another 30,000 homes will be built in the county by 2010 -- and homeowners will want places to play ball, hike, ride bikes and generally seek refuge from urban pressures.

In response, the county is putting the finishing touches on its first comprehensive blueprint for setting aside land to meet the recreational needs of residents.

The 75-page plan for providing open space, preserving natural areas and building ball fields will be the subject of public forum Wednesday. The meeting, organized by the county Department of Planning and Zoning, will begin at 7 p.m. at the Churchville Recreation Complex on Route 155 north of Glenville Road in Churchville.

The meeting is a chance for residents to comment on the plan, which lays out general directions and policies, before it is submitted to the County Council in January.

More hearings will be set before the council considers it for adoption.

County officials say such a plan, in the works for about five years, is sorely needed.

While the demand for parks and recreational facilities continues to grow, land grows more expensive and is a limited commodity.

In addition, funding for land purchases continues to shrink.

"I think you have to be proactive," said Robert R. Staab, director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation. "We need to look at what we can do now in terms of land acquisition."

To residents, the amount of undeveloped land remaining in parts of the county may seem deceptively large, Mr. Staab said.

"They see a lot of agricultural land and open space, and it's just not going to be there" in years to come, he said.

The demand for facilities far outstrips the money to pay for them, Mr. Staab said.

For example, in advance of the fiscal 1995 budget, local recreation councils have asked for $16 million in county money for parks and recreational facilities.

In reality, Mr. Staab said, the county expects to receive less than $4 million from local, state and federal sources -- and even that amount is not guaranteed.

Just providing basic facilities -- ball fields, tennis courts and the like -- until the end of the decade is expected to cost $14 million, said Ms. Poulsen.

As money grows tighter, county planners seek cooperation from developers, Ms. Poulsen said. When larger projects are built, she said, planners and builders can work together in setting aside greenways and parkland.

But as the proposed plan specifies, the county also is interested in developing less traditional recreational facilities, such as hiking and biking trails along abandoned rail lines.

"We're definitely interested in rail trails," Ms. Poulsen said.

The 20-mile-long Northern Central Railroad Trail in northern Baltimore County is enormously popular, drawing thousands of people from throughout the region.

Residents who cannot attend Wednesday's meeting may submit comments on the plan in writing, to the attention to Irene M. Poulsen, community planner, county Department of Planning and Zoning, 220 S. Main St., Bel Air 21014.

Comments should be sent by mid-January.

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