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Nonprofit becomes the steward of its first Catonsville property

NeighborSpace steward of its first property in Catonsville

Embroiled in a controversy surrounding the future of an 11.01-acre parcel of land tucked off Frederick Road in Catonsville, the nonprofit land trust NeighborSpace of Baltimore County recently became the steward of a 6.75-acre tract of land in the nearby Dunmore community.

It is the first property in Catonsville under the trust's management.

The 6.75-acre property was previously managed by Dunmore Land Holding Inc., a nonprofit established in the 1960s by a group of people who wanted to prevent town houses from being built on the site.

NeighborSpace is a volunteer-run organization with the goal of protecting and preserving land within the Urban Rural Demarcation Line in the county.

"They're much better resourced than we are, and I have full faith and confidence in them," said Cliff Palmer, 71, a board member of Dunmore Land Holding who has lived in the Dunmore community for nearly 41 years. "I'm convinced…that they want the same things that we want. I think that I can speak for my group when I say that we fully trust them."

The trust the Dunmore community has for the group stands as a stark contrast with those who live near the Saw Mill Branch property at the end of Maple Avenue, about three miles away in Catonsville.

At the request of NeighborSpace, those residents have joined others from Patapsco Reserve, Seminole Avenue and the Hilltop community to form a work group to determine the future of the property.

The organization asked the community surrounding the property to decide the future use of the property.

"I want it to remain as is and I don't want it to negatively impact our streets," said Wil Heslop, who has lived in Patapsco Reserve for less than a year. "We moved there because it's not on a through-street and surrounded by woods, and we want to see it stay that way."

NeighborSpace holds a deed restriction on the property that is meant to protect the property from future development. It requires that the county seek the organization's permission before altering the land, said Barbara Hopkins, executive director of NeighborSpace.

The Saw Mill Branch property was sold to the county by Baltimore City for $1 in 2012.

At a recent meeting, some residents expressed distrust regarding NeighborSpace's ultimate goals. Some said they believe the group has an ulterior motive for being involved with the Saw Mill Branch property.

"I think people saw unfettered freedom as suspicious," Hopkins said. "We want the work group to decide what to do with this property and for whatever reason people were suspicious of that."

Some said they want the county to retain ownership of the property. That, however, is an unlikely resolution to the situation.

"I want to make it very clear that we have every intention of transferring ownership of the property to NeighborSpace," said Don Mohler, chief of staff for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. "NeighborSpace has a great reputation and we are confident in their ability moving forward."

Much like the communities surrounding the Saw Mill Branch property, the Dunmore community also wanted to see the land remain untouched and did not want additional traffic invited to their neighborhood, Palmer said.

Palmer said, while his neighborhood's nonprofit, which was created by homeowners, has worked effectively, community members didn't have the time to manage the wooded parcel any longer. So they turned to the nonprofit.

"It took some time to gain trust between the two entities," Palmer said, adding that some were concerned that the group would invite the public to use the property. "They thought NeighborSpace was part of big government."

"We stipulated from the get-go that we would not be inviting people in," Palmer said. "NeighborSpace was comfortable with that and it was written into the contract."

Hopkins said she is optimistic the work group will come to a decision on the Saw Mill Branch property.

"I don't have any doubt that we'll figure it out," Hopkins said. "We believe that [the Saw Mill Branch] property is worth protecting."

The work group is expected to reconvene in January, Hopkins said.

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