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Roland Park wants Baltimore Country Club

Residents of the well-groomed, historic Roland Park community are being asked to dig deep in their pockets to help purchase 17 acres of rolling open space at the Baltimore Country Club as part of a $10 million fundraising campaign.

Baltimore Country Club tried to sell its property in Roland Park to Keswick Multi-Care Center three years ago for $12.5 million.

Nearly 150 residents attended the annual meeting of the Roland Park Civic League Tuesday night to discuss the community’s new master plan, which includes a move to purchase the land that three years ago was under contract to Keswick Multi-Care Center for $12.5 million for a retirement and rehabilitation facility.

“It matters to Roland Park because of its history,” said Philip J. Spevak, president of the civic league, about the club’s property that abuts Falls Road and was a part of the organization’s estate that totaled 150 acres when it opened in January 1898.

“I want to buy this land as a community and have it preserved,” Spevak said. “The question is, can we do it?”

Spevak and other civic league officials said they had quietly raised an undisclosed amount toward the $10 million goal over the past few months through the Roland Park Community Foundation, the league’s fundraising group.

A small group of fundraisers and legal and business experts will work all summer to meet with all Roland Park residents in the hope of securing pledges, said Mary Page Michel, a civic league official. The group has formed an investment committee and created a planned giving tool to help set the campaign in motion, she said.

“We have been meeting with anyone and everyone who will speak with us,” Michel said. “I think we all have to get it through our heads that we have to sacrifice here … that there will be different amounts for all of us. This is an all-volunteer army. So when we ask, please say yes.”

Since the Keswick deal fell apart amid protests from Roland Park residents in 2008, the civic league has made two cash offers to the club to purchase the property — both rejected, Spevak said.

Kevin Bonner, general manager of the BCC, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

The club also has an expansive property in Lutherville at Five Farms and would maintain its elegant clubhouse in Roland Park if the property is sold, Spevak said.

“The BCC land is a tremendous reach — a tremendous reach for the community, and some say we can’t do it,” Spevak said. “But we have raised funds to help restore the fire station here, raised $5.3 million to refurbish the library and the water tower … and we are going public with this campaign. It is time to step up.”

If purchased, the Baltimore Country Club property would be placed in a preservation easement and maintained by the civic league, Spevak said. He said past negotiations between the league and BCC representatives had been rancorous.

“We unfortunately have seen the club as an adversary,” he told the group. “But having had three years since Keswick has given us perspective. We asked BCC to help us write a part of the master plan … and BCC recognized the importance and historic significance of the land to the community. Each side saw the mutual advantage to each other.”

The $10 million campaign would also fund restorations to the Roland Water Tower, a Roland Park landmark that opened in 1904 to serve the community, Spevak said.

The tower has been placed on the list of Maryland’s Most Endangered Structures by Preservation Maryland, making it eligible for a $250,000 state grant, which will help pay for much-needed repairs that total about $850,000. Ultimately, the tower would be open to the public, offering a sweeping vista of the surrounding leafy North Baltimore communities.

The group’s master plan also includes other private maintenance efforts in the community such as a new traffic pattern on Northern Parkway near the Bryn Mawr School and Gilman School, and stream bed restoration along Stoney Run.

An extensive tree survey is underway in Roland Park as well, as volunteers are fanning out surveying the neighborhood’s 2,800 trees.

In all, the community has “taken over” $50,000 in neighborhood upkeep work that would otherwise be funded by tax dollars, said Al Copp, a resident and civic league volunteer who is overseeing the tree survey.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, whose 14th District includes a small portion of Roland Park, said after the meeting that she is optimistic that the $10 million will be raised for the group’s efforts and the urban land preservation.

“It will all work out,” Clarke said. “I think they can find common ground on grassy land.”