A decent sledding hill is a community jewel, passed down from one generation of kids to the next.
The hill at Johns Hopkins and Riedel roads in Anne Arundel County has been cherished for decades. It’s wide and deep and runs at an almost perfect slope, generating good speeds.
“The kids love it,” said Emily Quade, a 22-year-old nanny who took a group of kids sledding on the hill Friday afternoon. “I mean I loved it when I was a kid, and it’s still here.”
Not for long. A Blacksburg developer is buying the land, which abuts the birthplace of Johns Hopkins in Crofton, and planning a 90,000-square-foot assisted living center. Sledders, typically a happy but frigid bunch, are mournful about what’s to come as early as next winter.
“The hill will be leveled,” said Jim Nicholson, senior vice president of properties development at HHHunt. Asked whether he expected opposition at a hearing later this month, Nicholson said, “I figure you can answer that as good as I can.”
Or as good as Laila Carpenter can. She’s 6 years old, and like most children her age, she doesn’t like bad news about fun stuff.
“I would be mad,” she said, carrying her multicolored sled up the hill. “This is going to be my favorite hill.”
Though the land is private, owners over the years have allowed sledders to use the hill. The land, tucked away off Route 3, near apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, is in a residential district, but developers are asking for a special exception to build the facility.
Community group leaders plan to fight. Not only are they unhappy about losing the hill, but they question whether another assisted living center is needed. HHHunt, which owns about 20 such centers in North Carolina and Virginia, has a new one opening in Severna Park, and community leaders count several more in the area.
“We don’t have enough parks and open spaces, and now they are taking one of the last great open spaces and making it into something we don’t need,” said Torrey Jacobsen, vice president of Greater Crofton Council.
Nicholson said the company studied the market and would not build without enough demand.
Jerry Walker, the Republican who represents the area on the Anne Arundel County Council, said he understands the reaction of community residents. “Obviously, it’s sad when something like that goes, but this is private property,” he said. “Sometimes changes happen that none of us want to see, but they are sort of inevitable.”
Bundled in a pink Hello Kitty jacket, 4-year-old Gabrielle Aleshire went down the hill for the first time with her dad, Chad Aleshire. Aleshire, 41, has gone sledding on the hill for at least a decade. Though he believes seniors need a place to receive proper care, he said he does wish developers would pick another place.
“Hundreds and hundreds of families come here every year to sled,” he said. “It’s one of the few places that’s within walking distance and safe.”
One mom said maybe there’s a way to do both — build the facility but leave the hill. “Perhaps they can keep the hills for the kids,” said Julie Mair of Odenton. “People need to have a place to stay, but there seems to me there could be a good compromise. I don’t see any reason why you would need to level the ground.”
Tara Haupt, 41, of Crofton, said she’s been sledding at the hill for decades. She brings her children to the hill every time it snows, and afterward her family grabs some hot chocolate. It’s a touchstone in a constantly changing world.
“Schools are overcrowded, the housing is too much — we need something to stay,” she said.
The developer promises “a real light-impact use,” as Nicholson put it. Not a lot of traffic, he said. Not a lot of noise. But no sledding.