Bel Air's last stand Community center: Protectors of wooded site forget that taxpayers banked it for a public project.


THE GROUP due to picket today in front of Harford County government offices against a plan to build a $2.8 million senior citizen/youth center on the last wooded tract in Bel Air may have its heart in the right place, but its timing is off.

First, the Harford County Council is finishing its annual budget, which includes money for the center. Second, fighting to preserve this stretch is like arguing against a condominium in Ocean City because it would spoil the beachfront solitude. Route 24 at the Bel Air town line is so chockablock with Big Box stores and mammoth supermarkets, it's hard to get worked up about this site.

It's a freak of nature (political nature, anyway) that this land off McPhail Road, behind a Motor Vehicle Administration branch, isn't developed by now. The county Board of Education, which must sign off on transferring the land for the center, bought it decades ago. The land has been considered for a school administration headquarters and a public library. But it has remained unused, except by environmental science students at nearby Bel Air High.

That high school program may be valuable, but it isn't reason enough to negate broader use of property bought with taxpayer funds. It would be akin to the state deciding not to build the football stadium at Camden Yards because folks liked parking cars there for baseball games. It may have been convenient, but it wasn't the reason for the land's purchase.

Bel Air's senior population is growing. School facilities alone cannot meet the recreational demands of young people. A community center in this growing corridor makes sense. The trick for Harford County will be to have it both ways: To develop this site to meet a community need while cutting as few trees as possible.

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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