Oliver House, Round 2 Building saved. Battle turns to land around it.

August 15, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

One battle won, another begins.

The Oliver House, a 171-year-old historic mansion near Chase, has been placed on the protected landmarks list by the Baltimore County Council, meaning the structure itself cannot be altered or demolished.

It's a victory for Oliver Beach residents who want the historic building preserved. But the surrounding four acres of open land, considered a community park by residents, is not protected.

And the developer who owns the land wants to build 14 homes there.

Residents say building the homes so close to the historic mansion would ruin the character of the place, while the developer says the community is already built up and a few houses won't affect the mansion.

"We feel the property should not be developed," said Ellen Jackson, vice president of the Oliver Beach Improvement Association. "It does give a beautiful parklike setting to the house. And it is the only open space in the community."

Efforts by Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, to obtain county and state funds to purchase the land have failed. "Because there's a shortage of money, it's not a priority," said Gardina.

So residents are organizing themselves into a non-profit group called "Friends of Oliver House" to solicit private donations, with hopes of purchasing all or part of the property, said Jackson.

"That would be wonderful if it would work," said John McGrain, county historian. "But I don't know where they're going to get the money -- unless some unknown billionaire steps in."

To purchase the Oliver House and grounds, which include a garage and swimming pool, would cost more than $500,000. And it's estimated that more than $200,000 in renovations are needed for the mansion.

The residents are holding a meeting Aug. 28 at Oliver Beach Elementary school to talk about raising money.

Named after its first owner, Robert Oliver, one of Baltimore's first millionaire merchants, the Oliver House originally was a rustic hunting lodge, set on 500 acres beside the Gunpowder River, McGrain said.

Its designer and builder, Robert Mills, was one of America's most respected early architects. During his lifetime, he designed and supervised the construction of more than 250 buildings, but only 15 to 20 remain. He may be best known for his design of the Washington monuments in Washington and Baltimore.

Michael E. Marino, attorney for Emerald Development, said his client would welcome someone to purchase the property. But as time goes on, "the price becomes a moving target" because of expenses, he said.

Saying his clients, Keith Randlett and Tony Mierzwicki, never intended to demolish or alter the mansion, Marino said the housing plans would not harm the character of Oliver House.

The land has zoning for 23 houses, but they plan to build only 14, Marino said. Those homes would be in the $130,000 to $160,000 range and would feature "colonial touches" to blend in with Oliver House.

The developer's plans have already come before the County Review Group and gotten preliminary approval.

But, because Oliver House is on the landmarks list, the housing plans must go before the full Planning Board for review, both Marino and McGrain noted.

No one is sure whether the Planning Board has the authority to deny the housing development because it might influence the view of a historic structure.

But McGrain plans to ask that the Planning Board remove one fTC potential homesite, to protect the view of the front of the mansion.

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