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Tennis club's future headed for the courts; Owners will fight law blocking development of land for office buildings


It is a sprawling hangar of a building on a patch of coveted real estate, where former Oriole Jim Palmer has volleyed with tennis star Pam Shriver and legends such as Virginia Wade have lectured on the game's fine points.

With its prime location and its unequaled expanse of indoor courts, the Greenspring Racquet Club has for years drawn players from throughout greater Baltimore to the threshold of Baltimore County's valleys.

But now, with the club's owners pressing forward in their bid to raze the building to make way for an office complex, some players are wondering whether the 22-year-old club is nearing its own match point.

"People just really feel it's a matter of time," said Steve Krulevitz, a former tour pro and an instructor at the Greenspring Racquet Club for the past decade.

Krulevitz, who in his prime traded shots with tennis giants such as John McEnroe, added: "If the club closes down and is replaced, it would be a tremendous loss to the tennis community in Baltimore. You can't replace 14 courts."

While a plan to tear down the club to make way for a pair of office buildings might be snared in a legal battle for months or years, the prospect is nonetheless unsettling for many area tennis buffs. The Greenspring club's 14 courts make it by far the largest of the tennis barns in the Baltimore area.

Players wonder how they would be replaced. Some worry that the price of land would prevent another tennis center in a similarly convenient location. Others hope that outdoor clubs might move to fill a void by constructing "bubbles," such as those used to cover ice rinks, over courts for winter use.

Claude England, a pro who teaches at Greenspring, said players have traded rumors and worries about the club's future for years.

"They're watching it to see what's going to happen," England said, adding, "It's really up to the owner, and what he decides to do with the place."

Club owner William Hirshfeld refused to comment on his plans this week, saying only that he made it clear in a letter to members last year that the club -- which, he referred to as his "baby", according to one member -- is not closing.

But court papers filed last week showed he is determined to develop the land.

The lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court and in Baltimore County Circuit Court allege that a new Baltimore County law designed to limit growth on Falls Road just north of Interstate 695 is unconstitutional because it's "selective legislation" designed to prevent him from building the office buildings.

Hirshfeld and developer Howard Brown last year sought county approval to construct five- and six-story office buildings and a parking garage.

"I don't think the people know what to think," Krulevitz said. "They're getting two different messages, kind of a mixed signal."

"It's a kind of leitmotif," club member Bill Green said. "It's talked about under the surface.

"It's a wonderful place," he said. "I hope [Hirshfeld] likes running the club better than he'd like selling it."

Many residents of Green Spring Valley and the Falls Road corridor are less concerned with the possible loss of the club than with the problems they fear the proposed development would bring.

They said Hirshfeld's proposed project, with a large addition proposed to the neighboring Green Spring Station, would add traffic to congested roads and overburden a sewer system nearing capacity.

Palmer, who lives in Brooklandville, said it is unfair for Hirshfeld to be singled out and denied the chance to develop the land.

"Here's a man who has worked his business as well as anyone," Palmer said. "He's there, he cares. Why should the rules be any different for him than anybody else?"

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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