As part of the state university system's efforts to find new sources of revenue, the University of Baltimore is considering developing or selling 45 acres of parkland in Baltimore's Mount Washington neighborhood.
UB officials say they are only gathering information and have no immediate plans for the tract, but pointed out that a recent university system report directed institutions to examine their holdings for underperforming properties that could be sold or developed.
"We want to look at everything and make sure we've done our homework," said Chris Hart, a university spokesman.
Area residents are concerned that development would take away one of Mount Washington's last remaining green spaces and give children no place to play sports. "It's the heart of the neighborhood," said Lu Pierson, a Mount Washington resident. A community meeting about the university's plans is scheduled for tonight.
The Mount Washington property, formally known as the University of Baltimore Athletic Complex, lies along Rogers Avenue. It includes a golf driving range, several vacant buildings including an old gymnasium, woodland and three fields, which are used by residents and sports leagues. It is among the largest undeveloped parcels in the northern part of the city.
Even before the recent university system report, UB had aggressively developed some of its properties. In October, it began seeking development proposals for four properties it owns close to its campus at Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue. Last spring, the school demolished the historic Odorite building to make way for a $14 million student center.
This is not the first time UB has considered developing its Mount Washington property, which is zoned for single-family homes. The university issued a "request for information" last year to see if there were any development interest in the site.
H. Mebane Turner, the university's previous president, would "threaten to build dorms there about once a decade, but we didn't take him seriously. His child was in the soccer league," said Pierson, who has lived in Mount Washington since 1984.
Pierson said she and other residents are concerned that Mount Washington cannot accommodate more development. Nearly 350 homes are scheduled to be built at the Bonnie View Country Club site, a few miles from the UB property. "The increase in traffic and other negative environmental impacts of that development is expected to be significant," Pierson said.
Some residents say they understand why UB is taking a closer look at the land. "Given the state's financial situation, it's not surprising they would do this," said Clifford Mitchell, president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association, which is hosting tonight's community meeting.
Mitchell said UB officials have been forthright about their desire to re-examine the property, and that they have not given him any indication that they are determined to develop it.
He said he believes the community would staunchly oppose any efforts to develop the fields.
Soccer league officials say they are concerned about potential development. "We don't have anywhere else to play except by sending people to Timonium or Cockeysville," said Mac Nachlas, a volunteer coach whose son, Patrick, plays in the league.
UB officials are expected to attend tonight's meeting, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Johns Hopkins University's Mount Washington campus, 5801 Smith Ave. "We're really in the idea phase. We just here to listen and let them guide us," Hart said.