A plan to give the aging swimming pool at Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park a makeover has been been floating around for years. But the city is now pushing ahead with a plan that includes a 79-car parking lot that has drawn intense opposition.
Today the Board of Estimates is set to award a $10.1 million contract to reconstruct the Druid Hill Aquatic Center and install a parking lot across East Drive, next to the tennis courts.
NOTE: At its meeting this morning, the BOE deferred approval of the pool and parking lot contract until February 26. There was no explanation for the delay. We will follow up.
Funds for the work come from various sources, including $2.6 million in state Open Space money, some of it intended for Druid Hill Park trails and parking, according to the board’s agenda.
At a recent City Council hearing, every city agency gave the parking lot, which requires conditional zoning use approval, a positive report or had positive comments to offer about it.
And everyone else who spoke on the matter either questioned the parking lot or blasted it for paving green space and encouraging more car traffic in the park.
“This is a terrible, awful idea,” Councilman Ryan Dorsey said, speaking before the Land Use and Transportation Committee last month.
“This belongs nowhere near a public park, in public open space, where people are supposed to be able to freely enjoy recreational access,” Dorsey said.
K.C. Kelleher, of the Greater Remington Improvement Association, said the group has voted against the proposal in the past and asked for the committee to defer action on Council Bill 19-0423 until Recreation and Parks could make a formal presentation to her group.
“Adding parking goes against our mission for a neighborhood plan to make it safer for walking and biking and taking the bus and other forms of transportation,” Kelleher said, noting that the group has suggested the use of nearby existing lots, such as at the Boy Scouts or Stieff Silver buildings.
Bikemore’s representative Jed Weeks said the parking lot should not be approved ahead of the city’s ongoing TAP Druid Hill Corridor Realignment Study.
That study is going to “look comprehensively at re-envisioning the corridor” to reconnect communities, such as Auchentoroly Terrace, that have been cut off from the park for years by road construction.
“Why would we move forward with this without incorporating it into this entire discussion about park access?” Weeks said, adding, “Beyond that, no other park system in America is looking to add car parking.”
Addressing the committee on behalf of Recreation and Parks was Adam Boarman, chief of capital development.
“The decision to propose parking in a park is not one we take lightly,” he said.
“We see this as a regional asset,” he continued. “We need to be able to get people from all over town to this park.”
“No other park system in America is looking to add car parking.” – Jed Weeks of Bikemore.
“There is no MTA bus stop within Druid Hill Park or within a 10-minute walk to the pool,” notes a Rec and Parks memo on file with the Council.
The department has scheduled a community meeting next week to unveil the pool plan, which includes water play features and swim lanes plus a replacement for the current bath house building that was constructed in the 1970s.
According to documents on file with the Council, the project will increase the maximum capacity of the aquatic center from 300 to 500 people.
The new parking lot would be used by employees and visitors at the Recreation and Parks administration building as well as users of the tennis courts, basketball courts and pool.
Speed bumps, curb bump-outs and cross-walks would be incorporated into the design to slow down traffic to provide “a safe environment” for visitors, the Recreation and Parks memo on the project says.
Dorsey took issue with that. “There is nothing that I could argue under the sun that explains to me that providing more access to vehicles makes anybody safer in any way,” he said.
Another issue being raised by critics is the loss of green space. The site of the proposed parking lot is currently a patch of grass with trees at the far end.
Asked by committee chairman Ed Reisinger how many trees would be cut for the parking lot, Boarman answered: “two or three.”