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Easement could torpedo parking sought by city for Patterson Park

A 2005 agreement with state requires changes to park building be approved by the Maryland Historical Trust.

Above: Walter Payne, a health care aide, stands where a parking lot is planned at the Patterson Park Casino Building.

In addition to facing escalating opposition by residents, Baltimore faces a legal roadblock as it seeks to build a new driveway and parking lots inside Patterson Park.

The hitch?

The Brew has discovered that the building site where the parking development would be centered is under state protection under a perpetual easement. Any alteration to the building and surrounding land requires the approval of the Maryland Historical Trust.

J. Rodney Little, executive director of the trust, said the Baltimore Health Department has not yet contacted his agency about converting the 119-year-old Casino Building to a senior center and installing 96 parking spaces and a road around the premises.

He expressed skepticism that the proposal would meet the easement’s tight legal restrictions on altering the building, surrounding land and rights-of-way.

“Anything within the boundary of the easement does require our review and approval,” Little confirmed in an interview yesterday. “A parking lot that is anywhere close to the building is likely to present problems from our perspective.”

Little’s remarks came two days afterThe Brew disclosed the city’s preliminary plans to convert green space on the park’s north side to parking.

“Don’t Pave” Response

City Councilman James B. Kraft, whose district includes Patterson Park, said citizen response to the proposal has been “remarkably” negative.

“The mayor’s office has been hearing a lot of feedback,” he said last night.

A “Don’t Pave Patterson Park” petition drive by the Friends of Patterson Park has gathered more than 2,300 signatures, and community groups throughout southeast Baltimore have rallied against the plan.

Kraft characterized the idea as “in conflict with many of the things that we have been trying to do in the park for years, such as eliminate vehicular traffic and remove paved surface to increase green space.”

Land easement around the Casino Building that is under the purview of the Maryland Historical Trust.

Land easement around the Casino Building that is under the purview of the Maryland Historical Trust.

The plan would require a number of agency approvals to proceed, including a green light from Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).

But the most serious hurdle could be from the historical trust, which has direct responsibility for the property under a 2005 preservation easement deed granted by then-Mayor Martin O’Malley.

The deed was approved in return for $200,000 in state aid to help renovate the building into an adult daycare center for people with Alzheimer’s and related diseases.

Because the 1893 structure designed by Charles H. Latrobe “has historic, aesthetic and cultural character,” the easement was created to “promote the preservation and maintenance of the property,” according to the deed.

In addition, the state stipulates that $200,000 grant be used for adult daycare, with no other uses specified.

Adult Daycare Center Closing

Under orders by Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, clients at the Eleanor E. Hooper Adult Daycare Center are being dispersed to individual private care.

As a result, only nine clients were using the Casino Building yesterday. By the end of next week, the daycare facility will be closed.

In its place, Barbot has proposed converting the property to a senior citizen center to replace the John Booth Center in Highlandtown, which is set to close because of a reduction in federal funding.

Barbot has outlined a long-term plan to turn the Casino into a magnet senior center for East Baltimore along the lines of the Waxter Center, which serves West Baltimore.

The new parking areas, a loop driveway and widened entrance at East Baltimore Street have been devised to accommodate the influx of seniors coming to the center.

In a memo to community groups, Kraft said that “there may be an effort by some” to portray his opposition to parking as a slap at seniors. “This would be a ruse and an attempt to divide our community, pit neighbor against neighbor, and portray us as parochial obstructionists,” Kraft wrote.

Parking for Rec Center

The city also is seeking a new parking lot for the Virginia Baker Recreation Center, which is sited between the Casino Building and Baltimore Street.

Hillside where more than 50 parking spaces would be built. The roadway in foreground serves the daycare center at the Casino Building and staff parking for the Baker Rec Center. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Hillside where more than 50 parking spaces would be built. The roadway in foreground currently serves the Casino Building daycare center and staff parking for the Virginia Baker Rec Center. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Recreation and Parks says it needs 25 new spaces as part of its expansion of the facility into a community center that would be used by families not within walking distance of the facility.

Rec and Parks has proposed using Virginia Baker as a senior center, a plan that Barbot has rejected.

Rec and Parks, which has jurisdiction over the 137-acre park, has so far not released data on the cost of constructing the loop driveway and nearly 100 parking spaces.

The parking plans were developed at Rec’s request by Hord Coplan Macht, which was awarded $1.5 million last November to act as the agency’s architectural design firm.

Initially, Barbot wanted to start transferring seniors to the Casino Building in October, but those plans are now on hold.

Public Hearings to be Announced

Councilman Kraft and the city are planning to hold four public meetings between October 1 and 11 to discuss the parking plan.

Health and rec and parks officials say they will attend to explain their plans.

The time and location of the meetings have not been finalized and will be announced shortly, Kraft said.

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