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Environmentby Fern Shen4:33 pmSep 25, 20120

Mayor, health chief defend Patterson Park parking plan

Barbot says “internal documents” released prematurely.

Above: Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot at a Westport elementary school today, promoting Healthy City Days.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake today stood behind a plan that includes making a loop driveway and 96 new parking spaces at Patterson Park, saying concerned citizens need to hear more details of “the bigger plan.”

Approached at the close of a Westport media event to promote a health initiative, she initially rebuffed a reporter’s questions, saying, “That’s a longer conversation than we have time for.”

But told that more than 3,000 people had signed a petition opposing the project since The Brew disclosed it last Tuesday, the mayor elaborated a bit.

“That’s not all there is,” she said. “It’s part of a bigger plan. It’s not just to improve and expand the senior center. It’s a lot more than just parking lots.”

Rawlings-Blake left, advising The Brew to either arrange a longer meeting or discuss the matter further with the Department of Recreation and Parks.

“Not Set in Stone”

Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot likewise had some comments today about the proposed senior center at the historic Casino Building before directing a reporter to Rec and Parks.

“We’re not proposing anything to take away from the beauty or usefulness of the park,” she said.

Barbot said that when she met a couple of weeks ago with City Councilman James B. Kraft, “It was to discuss a potential plan, not something set in stone.”

She said, “We are committed to an open process. We will be participating in a series of meetings about this with the community.”

The first of four public meetings will take place next Monday evening at the Virginia Baker Rec Center inside Patterson Park.

Was Plan Released Prematurely?

Asked about the report on the project prepared by the architects, Barbot said Kraft may have been premature in publicizing it: “Those were internal documents that were not to be released.”

Told that Paterson Park residents felt they should have been included in the discussions much earlier, Barbot said, “They should talk to Recreation and Parks, talk to Bill Vondrasek.”

Both Kraft and a top assistant to Vondrasek said the parking plan was propelled by Barbot’s designation of the Casino Building as a future “magnet” senior center.

Barbot said through a spokesperson that her remarks were not meant to criticize Kraft and were “mischaracterized” by The Brew.

“I want to emphasize that Dr. Barbot was absolutely not criticizing Councilman Kraft in any way,” Amy Samman Krengel wrote in an email. “We are committed to working with the Councilman and the community as a whole.”

Like the mayor, Barbot said residents will support the plan once they hear more details. “What has not been brought out is that Parks and Recreation’s plan will actually reduce the amount of pavement in the park,” she said.

Reached tonight, Councilman Kraft said Barbot’s version of the release of the documents “is not true.”

“Does Not Have the Facts,” Kraft Says

“They were not internal documents,” he said. The plans, including the architect’s rendering, were given to him by Rec and Parks officials “for me to release and distribute to the community.”

A memo Kraft wrote to community leaders about the issue was first sent to Barbot’s office for comment as well as to the mayor’s office and Rec and Park officials.

“Once again, Commissioner Barbot does not have the facts,” Kraft said.

Earlier today, Barbot was asked why senior services were being moved away from the John Booth Senior Center in Highlandtown, which many elderly people reach on foot, to the Casino Building inside the park, which would require a car.

“Our experience is it’s a very small number of seniors that walk to that center,” she said.

She then reiterated her point that Councilman Kraft had caused trouble by releasing the report improperly.

“It was simply for discussion, not necessarily for distribution,” she said.” It was meant for discussion, internal discussion.”

– Additional reporting from Mark Reutter.

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