Growing up in Towson, Stephen Giordani played sports on the same fields his 10-year-old daughter, Isabella, uses now. Except the county seat’s population has swelled by more than 20% since 1990, the number of young people playing sports has more than doubled, and field space is at such a premium that Isabella’s soccer matches start at 9:30 p.m. on weekdays.

The hemmed-in communities around the city line have a rare opportunity to change that with the possible opportunity to acquire almost 13 acres of land behind St. Pius X Church at 6428 York Road. The school closed in 2021 due to low enrollment; the Archdiocese of Baltimore is selling the parcel that includes the school, the parking lot, and several athletic fields.

“It’s very challenging,” said Giordani, president of the Towson Recreation Council, which provides baseball, lacrosse, basketball and soccer leagues for about 7,000 participants. “It all comes down to available field space.”

Last Thursday evening, close to 100 residents from eight surrounding neighborhoods packed the Idlewylde Town Hall to support County Councilman Mike Ertel’s plan to ask County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. for help purchasing the property to keep it as green space. It would be a small request compared to the Randallstown library and recreation center combination the county announced on May 8, which includes $10 million in county funds.

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“We often get bypassed in Towson because the mantra is, ‘You’re already privileged, you don’t need it.’ I’ve been hearing that for 25 years,” said Ertel, who was a long-time community activist before he ran for the council. “Newer communities like Perry Hall and Owings Mills planned for green space, but Towson was built a long time ago. We’re playing catch-up in the middle of the county.”

Though the archdiocese recently announced plans to close the St. Pius X church and merge that parish with the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, that decision is not final and is not part of this discussion. The asking price for the field and school property is $4.6 million, Ertel said. It is zoned for residential use, but no developers have yet entered into a contract. That may be because the appraised value of the site is $2.25 million, Ertel said.

While that may sound low for a desirable area along transit and close to the city, Ertel said the site would need proper subdivision, stormwater, and sewer capacity, all of which might cost more than a developer could make selling the single-family homes that could be built there.

Ertel can also downzone the property as part of the comprehensive rezoning process, which happens every four years and is set for September. Because of councilmanic courtesy, that decision is more or less at his sole discretion. Downzoning the land could lower the price, as it decreases the options of what could be built there. The downzoning suggestion brought applause from the audience. They represented the neighborhoods of Stoneleigh, Anneslie, Loch Hill, Idlewylde, Rodgers Forge, Gaywood, Lake Walker, and Bellona-Gittings.

Del. Cathi Forbes, who represents the area, said Program Open Space, the state program to buy land threatened by development, could provide some funding, but will not purchase property above the appraised value. That means Ertel will need the county executive to kick in extra money.

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“I’m going to try as hard as I can,” Ertel said, to more applause.

The need for more fields in the county has become more pressing since the 1980s, when girls’ sports, lacrosse in particular, exploded in popularity. As more immigrants have relocated to the county, many have showed up in the evenings for soccer games and have had to wait until late at night for available fields.

The situation is about to become more acute as the county embarks on a plan for a new Towson High School that will make the fields inaccessible for a time, Giordani said. Already, teams are practicing at Meadowood Regional Park, near Greenspring Station and a 15-minute drive from the neighborhoods around St. Pius. Other options include the Northeast Regional Education Center in Parkville and the fields at Dumbarton Middle School, which Giordani said are not in great shape.

Ertel and Forbes encouraged community members to write to the county executive as well as the archdiocese and prevail upon them to save a community asset.

St. Pius holds a special place in the hearts of many residents because they played sports, attended elementary school, or enjoyed the annual carnival there. The property is about a century old; it began life as the St. Vincent De Paul Male Orphan Asylum, and then became a school in the 1950s.

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Giordani is hopeful the rec council can save the portion of the school with the gym for basketball and the possible expansion of other indoor sports, like martial arts.

In addition to an amenity for athletes, keeping the fields green will also help the county decrease impervious surfaces and help the environment, said Beth Bone Miller of the Green Towson Alliance. For the Rodgers Forge community, which abuts the field, the fields are crucial open-air space in a community of rowhouses and apartments. A new development on Bellona Avenue has taken many of the community’s beloved trees, said Jamie Norwood, president of the Rodgers Forge Community Association.

“This is one of the rare opportunities to get ahead of something,” Norwood said. “And we need to make sure our voices are heard, because once it’s sold, it’s too late.”

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