Volume 12, Issue 8 ~ February 19-25, 2004

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In AA County, Ballfields versus Natural Beauty

In two areas of Anne Arundel County just now, preservationists are irked at the determination by the Department of Recreation and Parks to carve pristine land into sports fields.

On the Broadneck Peninsula, the county was rebuked last week by the Board of Public Works for its insistence on turning swaths of the old Smith Farm into ballfields. The former owner of the land, Elizabeth Gleaves, had extracted the county’s promise to use the farm for equestrian purposes.

In denying the county’s $250,000 request for its ballfield plan, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer observed that it wasn’t right to slap athletic fields on more of Maryland’s disappearing farmland.

The penurious Schaefer might have had other motivations, among them payback for political foes who want the development.

But we think that his instinct was right — for now at least.

Elsewhere in the county, Recreation and Parks has proceeded, in heavy-handed fashion, in its drive to put soccer-lacrosse fields and parking areas on state-owned land at Franklin Point in Shady Side.

It took a massive organization effort in the mid-1990s to save that 477-acre parcel from a development scheme that would have put hundreds of houses on one of the last stretches of undisturbed waterfront on the middle Chesapeake Bay.

Many of the environmentalist advocates and watermen who spearheaded that preservation effort hope that it remains a pristine area with wetlands, open space and trails.

Thus far, Anne Arundel County has viewed matters differently and has been less than open at times in putting together its so-called management plan for Franklin Point.

We’re heartened that on February 25, the county and a planning committee will hear public comment at a 7pm at Shady Side Elementary School.

There is a common element in these disputes. In both, the county is acting out of perceived need to make irretrievable changes in a commodity that has become exceedingly rare: undisturbed land.

We understand the need for ballfields. But they’re a separate need that should be met after independent planning. In the effort, we would like to see an inventory of the fields we already have. Are they being properly utilized? Are there opportunities at existing fields for renovation or expansion? Would reuse be cheaper and better suited to these pinched times when the county wants to meet its obligations by raising our taxes?

Is other space available for sport? Other public lands already carved up or otherwise disturbed? Private lands that can be begged or borrowed? People who come to play with balls don’t need to go back to nature. It feels more like the big leagues when they play against a background of buildings, parking lots and cleared land.

When fateful decisions are made with our rarest commodity, Anne Arundel County should not expect to act unilaterally without making its case to the citizens. For as Schaefer’s wise predecessor, Louis Goldstein, said: “The good Lord isn’t making any more land.”

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Last updated February 18, 2004 @ 11:59pm.