Anne Arundel hoping to buy park from city

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens is making a renewed push to acquire a Baltimore-owned waterfront park that sits in the county, noting a growing number of complaints from nearby residents about problems such as loud parties and drug activity.

Owens informed the city of the residents' concerns regarding Fort Smallwood Park in a letter this week to Baltimore Deputy Mayor Jeanne D. Hitchcock.

The county executive said yesterday that she wants to meet with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley within a few weeks to discuss the county's desire to take over the park, which is several miles southeast of the city line near the mouth of the Patapsco River.

"I always loved that park, and when I drive by it, I always wonder why that isn't an Anne Arundel County park," Owens said.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said city officials had just received Owens' letter and were deciding on a response. In the past, city officials have said they did not want to sell the 100-acre park.

The park is a geographic oddity, a point of land on the Anne Arundel shoreline that is controlled by the city even though it doesn't abut Baltimore.

The city bought the land from the federal government in 1929, and its woods, grasslands and beaches attract a steady stream of weekend visitors.

In recent years, residents of the neighboring Pasadena community have grown frustrated by what they perceive as inadequate park upkeep and a failure to address security concerns.

City officials nearly closed the park in 1999, noting a lack of funding.

"I'm sympathetic to the city's circumstances" of maintaining and monitoring a park outside its city limits, Owens said.

The city has rebuffed previous county overtures to acquire the park, but city and county officials agreed two years ago to work together to repair shuttered restrooms, broken fountains and a dilapidated fishing pier.

However, changing funding priorities that emerged after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and a shortage of state funds halted those efforts before they started, Owens said.

County officials estimated repair costs at $2 million to $10 million, Owens said.

Gary M. Mewshaw, a nearby resident who has been an outspoken critic of the park's woes, said the city has taken no steps in recent years to stop the shoreline from receding and that trees felled from recent storms litter the park.

Mewshaw has complained that city officials rarely monitor the gates and that Baltimore police infrequently patrol the park, which has a limited staff.

Anne Arundel County police lack jurisdiction to monitor the park.

The park has become a haven for late-night rowdiness, vandalism, shootings and fires, said Mewshaw, a member of the Rockwood Beach Improvement Association.

"It's gotten out of control down here," Mewshaw said.

Connie Brown, the city's associate director of recreation and parks, called the park "a perpetual problem" and said Owens' proposal is worth discussing.

He said the city has taken steps to secure the front gates with larger chains and locks but that such measures haven't stopped people from breaking into the park after hours.

"We can only keep doing what we're doing; hopefully that will wear them down," he said.

Residents are concerned that such behavior, if left unchecked, might spread into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Of the county's latest efforts to take over Fort Smallwood Park, Mewshaw said the residents "are all for that. ... That's a no-brainer."

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