Proposed modifications to Patterson Park to allow for more parking within its borders have community groups scrambling to understand what happens next.
Last week, a drawing with the label “Patterson Park Parking Study” surfaced. It shows a loop road winding through three new parking areas, one approximately 50 feet west of the Virginia S. Baker Recreation Center with spaces for about 20 cars; one approximately 200 feet west of the rec center with spaces for 51 cars; and one adjacent to the “Casino” building accommodating about 22 cars.
The drawing is dated Sept. 12 and labeled with the imprint of Hord Coplan Macht, a Pratt St. architecture firm.
In a closely related development, the city Health Department indicated a decision to close Highlandtown’s John Booth Senior Center, according to a statement issued by First District Councilman Jim Kraft. The Health Department itself could not be reached for comment at press time, except for a brief statement:
“The Baltimore City Health Department is committed to partnering with the Department of Recreation and Parks to work with the affected communities to ensure seamless transition of services for seniors.”
Kraft said in his own statement that he had met last week with Dr. Barbot and Acting Recreation and Parks Director Bill Vondrasek.
The meeting, according to Kraft’s statement, was called after Barbot made some decisions in reaction to the Health Department’s recent loss of “formulaic” federal funding, due to Baltimore’s shrinking population as indicated by the 2010 census.
According to Kraft, those decisions include ending the adult daycare service that takes place in the Casino, closing the John Booth Senior Center, and relocating the John Booth Center’s services to the Casino. Furthermore, the senior center services would be expanded to create “the City’s major ‘flagship’ east side senior facility,” according to Kraft’s statement.
Kraft went on to say that he opposes modifications to allow more traffic and parking in Patterson Park.
“I told both the Health Department and the Department of Recreation and Parks that the parking plan is in conflict with many of the things that we have been trying to do in the Park for years; e.g., eliminate vehicular traffic and remove paved surfaces to increase green space,” Kraft said. “I also told them that these were not only goals that the community had been pursuing, but they were goals that the Department of Recreation and Parks had been pledging to reach.”
Representatives of the Friends of Patterson Park also opposed more traffic and parking in the park.
“We’re definitely against the loss of any green space,” said Katie Long, program coordinator and Hispanic liaison for the Friends.
“The Friends of Patterson Park are [in favor of] less cars in the park in general.”
Ray Lubinski, a user of the John Booth Senior Center and president of its advisory council, said in a letter that the Casino building could be a viable place to relocate the John Booth Center’s services.
“Moving from an ‘open space’ building where there is no place to hold programs that are not out in the open to a place such as the [Casino] would be wonderful,” he wrote.
However, Lubinski added, the Casino is too far into the park for seniors to park and walk from Baltimore St.
In a telephone interview, he noted that many of the 114 registered users of the senior center have oxygen tanks, walkers, and canes.
“My main concern is that we have a place to go,” Lubinski said. “We know we’re going, but we don’t know where.”
Kraft’s statement says that during his meeting with Barbot and Vondrasek, some “points became clear.”
“The Department of Recreation and Parks, long committed to the same goals as we with regard to traffic and parking, seems to be reconsidering that commitment,” Kraft said, “and the Department of Recreation and Parks is reviewing its decision to renovate and expand the Virginia Baker Recreation Center…based upon its re-examination of the available parking.”
He said that he believes some are portraying the issue as a “seniors vs. the Patterson Park community conflict.”
“This would be a ruse and an attempt to divide our community, pit neighbor against neighbor, and portray us as parochial obstructionists,” Kraft wrote.
He said the issue is simple: “Protect Patterson Park—no more cars, no more parking, no more paving!”
Vondrasek was out of office at press time, but Gwendolyn Burrell, a spokesperson for the Department of Recreation and Parks, forwarded a brief statement saying that there is currently “no budget for vehicular improvements in Patterson Park.”
“Should enhancements be made,” the statement continued, “they would be designed and scheduled to coincide with improvements to the Virginia S. Baker Recreation Center over the next one to two years. We understand the concerns expressed by members of the community about proposed improvements to Patterson Park and take them very seriously.”
Kraft has scheduled a meeting for this week with the heads of the community organizations around Patterson Park. Public meetings on the issue will follow.
by Erik Zygmont