Loyola Gets City Council Nod to Buy Woodberry Woods for Athletic Use

by Jeffrey Friedman
On Monday, June 3, the Baltimore City Council voted 10-6, with three abstentions, in favor of a much-disputed bill that will allow Loyola College to purchase 71 acres of the Woodberry forest and landfill area for a new stadium and practice fields. The measure was opposed by a well-organized group of Woodberry residents and environmentalists.

The bill does not permit Loyola to begin construction, but rather allows it to finish negotiating the land disposition agreement with the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC). The price for the land is still being negotiated, but was estimated by a BDC appraisal at $7,000/acre.

BDC president Jay Brodie expressed understanding that the Woodberry neighborhoods would have some serious concerns. "We immediately told [Loyola],"Brodie said, "that they needed to go out and have neighborhood discussions."

The opponents' biggest worries are that the 6,000-seat stadium complex will bring traffic, noise and litter, as well cause the loss of natural habitat and trees. Through their not-for-profit organization, Woodberry Land Trust, they obtained more than 3,000 signatures against the project and have raised approximately $30,000 to make the forest an improved recreation area.

The 200-year-old Woodberry area is made up of four neighborhoods and the 100-acre woods. It is bordered by West Cold Spring Lane, Greenspring Avenue, Druid Hill Park and the Jones Falls. Last December, Scenic America designated the Woodberry Watershed Forest as one of ten "Last Chance Landscapes" in the country.

Although a substantial portion of the woods is growing atop a landfill, the undeveloped acreage is used for recreational activity, and City Paper voted it "Best Hiking Trail 2001."

The Legislative ProcessBefore going to the City Council, the Planned Unit Development (PUD) bill first passed through the Council's Land Use Committee. Despite opposition from Council President Sheila Dixon and committee chair Lois Garey, the bill was passed out of committee for consideration by the Council.

"Even though I set the agenda," Dixon explained, "the committee agreed, or decided under pressure, to bring the vote out of committee. I try not to hold up a bill if the votes are there."

Garey believed the bill's passage was inevitable. She worked to get amendments added to the bill to make the project less taxing on the neighborhoods.

"I pushed for every amendment I thought was reasonable," she said. "I think we covered almost everything the community was asking for."

The concessions include not building a previously-proposed second indoor stadium, prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcohol, mandating dark skylighting, setting limited hours of operation, and setting height limitations on the stadium and its lights.

In addition to pressure from the project's advocates within the City Council and from City officials, the minority of councilmembers who opposed the project received outside pressure from residents of communities surrounding Loyola College—Guilford, Homeland and Roland Park— who did not want a stadium constructed near their homes. Dixon remarked that keeping the project away from Loyola is "moving from one area where there are concerns to another."

After receiving a recommendation to support the bill from the Northern Planning District, the Fifth District's three councilmember all voted in favor of the bill, and influenced the votes of other councilmembers.

"The Fifth District Council members came to me and asked me to support their efforts," said First District Councilmember Nicholas D'Adamo, Jr. "I feel the Fifth District knows what's best for its district." The term for this political deference is "councilman's courtesy."

Sixth District Representative Edward Reisinger, who voted against the bill, pointed out that while the Woodberry Woods site is located in the Fifth District, "a large percentage of the residents live in the Fourth." In the final vote, only one of the Fourth District's three representatives, Agnes Welch, voted in favor of the bill.

Environmental Concerns

Reisinger said he opposed construction based on current environmental reports and the fact that an Environmental Protection Agency report has yet to be issued. He says that the existing reports have shown methane gas in the landfill section of the site and contamination of the water at the surface of landfill. The EPA's tests on the water below the surface will not be completed until August, and many opponents felt that the Council should have postponed its vote until the results were known.

On WYPR's "Marc Steiner Show" on May 21, representatives from Loyola and Woodberry—Terry Sawyer and Jim Emberger, respectively—debated issues concerning the landfill.

Sawyer, assistant to the president of Loyola, said that 50 of the 71 City-owned acres are landfill that are not suitable for other use.

Emberger, a board member of the Woodberry Land Trust, disagreed with this justification for construction, arguing that the part that is landfill will naturally become forest. He questioned the Council's wisdom in voting on the bill before reviewing the EPA study results.

In response to the argument that the recent construction of the police station adjacent to Cold Spring Lane is proof that the land is safe for construction, Emberger disagreed, commenting that the police station was "built on the periphery of the landfill," adding "nobody really knows if it's safe on the inside."

Sawyer noted that there was no reason for the Council to wait to vote on the bill since there will be "many regulatory hurdles" before construction can begin. He assured that the EPA and Maryland Department of the Environment reports would still have to be analyzed after the bill was passed.

Sawyer stressed Loyola's need for a new stadium and its efforts to limit the impact on the community. Currently the college has only one field to accommodate all of its interscholastic and intramural activities. "Of all Division-One schools, we probably have the worst athletic facilities," he said.

The envisioned stadium for the Woodberry site would have seats on only one side, he said, and would be considerably smaller than Johns Hopkins' 10,000-seat Homewood Field. He said Woodberry residents would not experience more traffic because "you cannot access the facility from the neighborhoods."

The two-and-a-half-year period of negotiations have had a significant impact on Loyola's plans, according to Sawyer. "The plan is significantly watered-down from the original," he said. "Honestly, there are more concessions than I can count." He said Loyola intends to conserve about 40 percent of the land.

The Woodberry Land Trust does not praise Loyola for this conservation, citing that the land being conserved is not conducive to construction because of slopes or streams. It also questions whether the complex will benefit anyone besides Loyola. The City will not collect taxes on the land since Loyola is a non-profit institution, and the stadium will not stimulate local business as it would if it were built in a commercial area.

Wayward Reports Found

Members of Woodberry Land Trust were upset and suspicious when they asked to review environmental reports in the files of the Maryland Department of the Environment, and learned that the files were missing. Contrary to conspiracy theories and a reference in a Sun editorial, Ed Dexter, Director of Solid Waste, said that this situation was probably an accident.

"We are required by state law to show our files upon public request...," he explained. "We produced files for request by contract from the EPA, and they were down there for a while [looking at them]. Some time between the time they saw them and sent them back, they disappeared." Loyola has since sent his department copies of the missing reports.

Many Steps Remain

Though the way has been cleared for Loyola to negotiate with the City to purchase the land, many hurdles to the proposed project remain, according to BDC's Brodie, and the design and term-setting will necessarily be a public process.

Meanwhile, the Woodberry Woods beckon nature-lovers, and activists are continuing to plant trees, hoping that the Loyola proposal, like several others for this site over the years, will not come to fruition. The City Council's bill paves the way for further negotiations and planning; it does not guarantee that the Loyola project will be built—or even that Loyola will purchase the land.

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This story was published on June 5, 2002.