Once home to Indians and settlers in the early 1700s, Cromwell Valley could become home to 216 new homeowners.
But not if the Trust for Public Land gets its way.
The national private, non-profit land conservation organization is negotiating with the owners of a 216-acre property within Cromwell Valley known as Satyr Hill Farms, said Debi Osborne, director of the Chesapeake Land Project for the Trust. The trust would seek to resell the land to the state or Baltimore County for parkland.
What makes the land especially attractive for preservation, Osborne said, is the adjacent 102 acres southwest of the property. That also is privately owned but has been placed in a conservation easement program that protects the land from future development.
Protection of Satyr Hill Farms would "link the two so you would have significant open space," Osborne said.
The property is owned by 15 heirs of Robert Merrick, who assembled the land during a 20- to 30-year period before his death about three years ago.
"Historically, it represents what Baltimore used to look like," Osborne said. "It's a link in the Gunpowder River greenway."
The land lies within Cromwell Valley, less than three miles from Towson and is bordered by the Loch Raven Watershed, Loch Raven High School and residential communities.
But all efforts to preserve it hinge on the availability of state and county money, Osborne said. She declined to comment on an amount needed to purchase the property, saying that negotiations are continuing.
"With this property, I feel we have a window of opportunity with the landowner, who is being very cooperative. . . . We're just going to do the best we can to try and get it preserved."
Recreation and Parks Director Wayne Harmon said the county was anxious to develop the land as an active recreation center, but admitted that a steep price would make it difficult for the county to purchase the land alone.
"We couldn't buy it without considerable help from the state," he said.
"But I have some optimism because it's not a controversial piece of land," he added. "Everybody wants [to preserve] Cromwell Valley."
"All you have to do is drive out there. . . . There is no question that this is the most beautiful area in Maryland and I'm not exaggerating," said Dorothy Streb, secretary for the Campaign to Save Cromwell Valley.
"It really is a lovely, lovely site. It's the last green space in Towson. It really should be preserved."
The property's natural beauty is just one of the trust's reasons for wanting to preserve it. The Minebank Run, a stream that traverses the valley and feeds the Gunpowder River "has a lot of erosion problems," Osborne said. Development could cause further erosion, she said.
The property is zoned DR-1, which permits the construction of one unit, or house, per acre, county planner Wally Lippincott said. The land also has access to public water and sewage, making it more attractive to a developer.
"Legally, they could start [building] without any changes in zoning," Streb said.
But Streb remains guardedly optimistic about Cromwell Valley's future.
"A lot of people see this land as a luxury, but it's really not," she said. "It's an investment in the future."