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County residents oppose rec center plan


A nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching gymnastics has run afoul of Perry Hall residents who fear the group's plan to build a recreation center in a residential neighborhood will drive down property values.

The group, Sokol Baltimore, was founded by Czech immigrants in the 1870s. For years, it had a facility in the city where children and adults could learn gymnastics for a lower cost than private lessons, said Bohus T. Bata, the organization's vice president.

Over the years, many of Sokol's members moved out of the city and into the suburbs, specifically to Perry Hall, so Sokol began to look for a site for a new facility that would be closer to its members and would meet its needs.

The group found a 16-acre site in the 4500 block of Forge Road, east of Belair Road, where it could build a new facility. "It is an expanding area, a great area, and we hope to be able to stay there another 50 or 100 years," Bata said.

But the land is zoned residential. A building as large as the one Sokol wants to build - 25,000 square feet with 300 parking spaces - would require a special exception.

Sokol has applied for such an exception. A hearing was to have been held before the county zoning commissioner today, but both sides have agreed to a two-week delay.

The size of the proposed building and parking lot has neighbors up in arms, said S. Arthur Laxton, who lives nearby. The building would be a significant departure from the 60 to 80 mostly ranch-style homes in the area, he said.

"It's all dwellings down here. There isn't a piece of commercial property. Even the closest church is two miles away," Laxton said. He and his neighbors worry that the proposed center will increase traffic in the area and drive down property values.

The Perry Hall Improvement Association sponsored a community meeting Tuesday, and 150 people showed up, almost all of them opposed to the project.

Association President David Marks said his group opposes the Sokol project.

"Our position is it's a nice facility for somewhere in the area, but just not this location," Marks said.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said he plans to introduce a bill prohibiting community centers in residential zones in the Honeygo area. Such buildings are not appropriate there, he said.

He said he's also working on a bill to clarify the definition of a community center.

"I do think Sokol is a good use, and I think they have a good program, but we need to try to find them an alternate site," Gardina said.

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