Baltimore County officials are trying to purchase as a future park site a 216-acre tract of scenic farmland near Gunpowder Falls State Park described as the last large open space in the Towson area.
Acquisition of the Merrick property has been the focus of three months of negotiations by county officials and three years of intense lobbying by community leaders.
"There are very good reasons -- environmental, ecological and aesthetic reasons --why everyone out here feels strongly that this property should be preserved," said Dorothy Streb, secretary of the Summerfield Farms Association, a community group that has been fighting to save the tract.
Ms. Streb said the fight began in 1988, when a development group sought to rezone the property for town houses and condominiums. The proposal was defeated, and the present zoning of one house per acre was retained.
Ms. Streb said the community's argument then was the same as it is now: "It's really the last green space within a five-mile radius of Towson."
Acquisition depends on an agreement by the state and county to buy the land, which is owned by the 15 heirs of the late Robert Merrick, said Baltimore County Recreation and Parks Director Wayne Harman.
Under plans being discussed by county officials, the property would be purchased from the heirs by the Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that acquires land for conservation, Mr. Harman said.
The trust would hold the property until the state and county can complete arrangements to buy it for parkland, Mr. Harman said.
The property, also known as Satyr Hill Farms, lies north of Cromwell Bridge Road and has a stream, the Minebank Run, flowing through it. It also has three tenant houses, a manor house, a large barn and three historic lime kilns.
The property abuts a 102-acre parcel to the west that has already been placed in easements by the Maryland Environmental Trust that restrict development. The Merrick property would link that land with Gunpowder Falls State Park to the north.
The acquisition was the focus of a meeting Tuesday in Annapolis between state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Torrey C. Brown and Mr. Harman.
Mr. Harman said yesterday that the results of that session were "inconclusive" because state officials want to further research the value and the potential of the site before agreeing to contribute any money. But he said that he is optimistic that the property will be acquired by either the state or county.
"From the numbers that were batted about, it seems to me we have the opportunity to make the acquisition," he said. "We have the opportunity to do something really great here."
Mr. Harman's optimism was bolstered this week during a County Council budget hearing, at which several council members encouraged him to work toward acquiring open space whenever possible.
County Administrator Merreen Kelly said County Executive Roger B. Hayden also "supports the concept" for some type of joint state-county purchase of the site.
An information sheet distributed by the trust to state and county agencies placed the tract's value, based on preliminary reports, at $4 million.
But Debi Osborne, director of the land trust's Chesapeake Lands project, said the exact price will be determined by negotiations and by a study being conducted by the state Department of General Services.
"There's still a lot of details that have to be worked out," she said.
Mr. Harman declined to discuss the price, but acknowledged that the county would likely pay about $1 million.
Mr. Harman said that if acquired by the county, the property would be studied to determine its best recreational uses.
He added that it could be used as "some type of farm museum or nature study center."
Neighbors of the property say that its potential as a park site is unlimited.
"Everybody thinks it's a great idea," said Stanley M. Pollack, president of the Summerfield Farms Association. "Unfortunately, nobody has committed any money for it yet."