“The compromise is,” said Recreation and Parks director Bill Vondrasek, explaining the rationale for adding parking in Patterson Park, “if you can keep the vehicles in one area and not let them go everywhere else…”
The rest of his sentence, spoken at the first public meeting to discuss the proposal for the park, was drowned out by a chorus of no’s and boos from a large audience that was apparently uninterested in compromising on the parking, paving, and driving issue.
Nearly 500 very vocal residents showed up to the Virgina Baker Recreation Center in Patterson Park on Monday night to hear Vondrasek and city health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot explain the proposal to add 96 new parking spaces plus a loop road to Patterson Park, relocate the John Booth Senior Center to the park’s Casino building, and eventually renovate the Virgina Baker Recreation Center into a full-fledged community center.
“I want to hear the details,” said Mike Minnicino of Baltimore St., explaining his attendance at the meeting. “I’m pretty much against paving the park in any form. It’s not so much the paving, but the traffic it introduces.”
It is unclear at this point if the proposal is still active. A few minutes before press time, The Baltimore Guide received a statement from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announcing her intention to have a special group formed to deal with the park.
“Today,” wrote Rawlings-Blake, “I’ve ordered the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Health Department to work with Councilman Kraft and community stakeholders to create a Patterson Park Master Plan Working Group.”
She said the group would be charged with “building upon the existing master plan to create comprehensive, community-driven strategies to enhance green space, increase traffic safety, and facilitate improved recreational opportunities in and around Patterson Park.”
“Enhancing our parks and supporting the needs of our seniors are not mutually exclusive goals,” Rawlings-Blake continued.
It is also unclear as of this writing whether future public input sessions scheduled for Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday will still happen. Check the
Baltimore Guide website, www.baltimoreguide.com, for this information as it becomes available.
Several dozen residents had showed up early to Monday’s meeting to hold signs against the park proposal. Greg Walsh, a resident of the 2500 block of E. Baltimore St., displayed a petition with approximately 5,500 signatures against the proposal. An unknown person showed up in a full chipmunk—or possibly squirrel—costume. The chipmunk’s white t-shirt read “This is nuts!” on the back.
First District Councilman Jim Kraft hosted and opened the meeting, and his sentiments reflected those of the residents who showed up:
“My message…is a simple message,” Kraft said. “It was nothing to do with utilizing the Casino for one group of users or another. It has to do with one fact—it allows for the entry of one more car into Patterson Park.”
As he launched into the now familiar “No more cars, no more parking, no more paving,” he didn’t get past the word “cars” before being drowned out by applause.
Vondrasek gave a slide presentation explaining the proposal.
Vondrasek discussed the park’s Master Plan, which was established in 1999. He emphasized the fourth of the plan’s four objectives: To restrict vehicle access to limited areas of the park, to revise site features to conform to this objective, and to protect the park and its users from the impact of vehicles.
“Some of the things we started thinking about, we think will do exactly that,” said Vondrasek, before someone in the audience yelled “Ha!”
“But we’re here to talk about it,” he responded.
Recreation chief Bill Tyler explained planned improvements to the rec center, including a full gym, larger computer room, better staff room, and fitness and weight rooms, as well as facilities for arts and crafts, aerobics, and dance.
“We will continue to have conversations; anything on this list will be adjusted according to what the community wants,” said Tyler.
Barbot explained the proposal from the Health Department’s perspective. She noted that the department had received a $1 million budget cut in July.
“Our number one priority in absorbing that cut is to ensure that services for seniors continue,” she said, adding that seniors in the adult daycare program previously located in the park’s Casino building had been relocated to other adult daycare programs.
The John Booth Center, Barbot said, is not compliant per the Americans with Disabilities Act, while the Casino building, also known as the Hooper Center, is. She also argued that the school adjoining the John Booth Center is “bursting at the seams” and could use the John Booth building.
“For us, moving the Booth Center to the Hooper Center was an obvious solution,” Barbot said.
Vondrasek continued his presentation with a slide depicting the park as it is now, and as it would be under the proposal. Since the proposal would reduce 25-foot-wide pedestrian tracks to 12-feet wide, the whole proposal would actually result in a net reduction of 45.78% in pavement in Patterson Park.
Another slide showed that people using the rec center might come from a mile away.
“Is everybody in that volleyball league that gets out at 9 p.m. a pedestrian?” Vondrasek said, and was met with more yells.
The meeting included a question-and-answer session, in which residents wrote down their questions on index cards.
“We are all here to talk about parking,” read the first question. “Why are you wasting time talking about other non-pertinent issues?”
“If the Booth Senior Council only wants 15 spaces, why are you putting in 96?” was another.
“How many people walked here tonight?” was another question.
Most of the audience raised their hands.
“How many people drove here tonight?” asked Vondrasek, to which about 20 people raised their hands.
“How many parked in the park?” asked Kraft, and only Vondrasek raised his hand.
“How many would not have come if they couldn’t park?” asked Vondrasek.
There was no audible response, but Vondrasek said he saw a few heads shake.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this room knows that nobody can get 100 percent of everything,” responded Kraft.
Several seniors from the John Booth Senior Center also attended the meeting.
“They had their minds made up when they got there,” said Ray Lubinski, president of the center’s advisory board, when asked for comment on the meeting. “Dr. Barbot did a good presentation, and so did Mr. Vondrasek.”
A letter from Lubinski, which was distributed at the meeting, states that the seniors would enjoy coming to the Casino building for services, but that vehicular access would be needed.
“We are talking 15 or so cars on any day and access by taxi, MTA Mobility, etc., to drop off members,” Lubinski wrote. “We are not asking for a parking lot. We are asking to be able to use the road surrounding the building that comes off Luzerne Ave. It would be perfect. We would be parking in the same area the staff (of the Hooper Center) used to park.”
Also at the meeting were Delegates Peter Hammen and Luke Clippinger, plus State Senator Bill Ferguson.
“Where’s the mayor?” someone yelled when the state congressmen were introduced.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” said Clippinger of the Recreation and Parks proposal after the meeting. “What was shown here tonight was a huge outcry from people who use the park, love the park, and who don’t want any additional parking—or in some cases any parking at all—in the park.”
“There’s already enough traffic in the park,” commented Hammen, who had signed the petition against the proposal. “I hope the city agencies are listening.”
Representatives from various community groups commented on the proposal.
“The faster we put this plan behind us, the quicker we can find a real solution to what they want to do in the park,” said Joe DiMattina, president of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association.
Jennifer Robinson, president of the Friends of Patterson Park’s board of directors, said, “We’re not opposed to the Casino being used for seniors.
We oppose paving and increased vehicular traffic.”
by Erik Zygmont