Oliver Beach residents who have been fighting for two years to preserve the open land around a historic 1819 mansion on the Gunpowder River have won a rare victory from Baltimore County's bureaucracy.
The county Board of Appeals reversed an earlier approval of Emerald Development Corp.'s proposed 12-home Oliver Landing project. The board decided July 16 that the county planning board did not properly consider the historic significance of the three acres around the mansion.
Such reversals are rare, since the board is legally constrained from throwing out development approvals unless they're found to be arbitrary or procured by fraud. The appeals board held that the Oliver Landing approval was arbitrary.
"Isn't it wonderful!" said Ellen Jackson, vice president of the Oliver Beach Improvement Association. She said local residents, some of whom formed a group called Friends of Oliver House, are trying to raise enough money to buy at least half of the building lots from Emerald. That would preserve at least the front and side views of the old mansion.
"It's very unfortunate we didn't do this a long time ago," she said of the effort to buy the land. She said the residents also realize the builder has "got to make a living."
The mansion is at the center of what was a 500-acre hunting preserve early in the 19th century, according to Paul Blitz, a local historian.
Mr. Blitz and county planner John McGrain said the house was designed by Robert Mills, the first American-born trained architect. Mills designed the Washington Monuments in Baltimore and in Washington as well as other government buildings in the nation's capital.
Mills designed Oliver House as a country home for Robert Oliver, a wealthy Baltimore merchant and shipowner.
The Oliver House property features a 245-year-old Spanish oak listed in the Maryland Champion Tree Book, Mr. McGrain said. The house itself is on the county's official list of historic landmarks, which forced the board to consider the compatability of the new homes.
Most of the estate was gradually sold off over the years, and during the 1930's small summer homes were laid out around it. These have now become permanent homes. The new homes, Mrs. Jackson said, would obscure most views of the old house and "destroy the integrity" of the mansion with their incompatible modern designs.
Michael Marino, the attorney for Emerald, said he has not decided yet whether to to abide by the board's decision, or appeal it to the Circuit Court.