Future of land uncertain in Cromwell Valley farm

November 09, 1992|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

A story in Monday's paper about the Cromwell Valley incorrectly reported the nature of a request for a change in the housing density at Good Fellowship Farm.

C. Franklin Eck Jr., the owner and developer, has not requested an increase in the overall housing density of the property but has asked for adjustments in the densities of two undeveloped parcels.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Apocalypse is not quite now for a major piece of the rustic Cromwell Valley, but residents say it moved a giant step closer when Gov. William Donald Schaefer decided to punish Baltimore County legislators by refusing to designate bond money to purchase Satyr Hill Farm for park land.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

In the battle between developers and preservationists in the county's rolling, northern valleys, the 216-acre parcel is a major prize.

"It can't go on forever," said W. C. "Wally" Pinkard, a commercial real estate agent representing the Robert Merrick family, which owns the property. Mr. Merrick assembled the farm over a 30-year period before his death three years ago, and it is now owned by his heirs.

"The family has a real interest in preserving the property," Mr. Pinkard said. "We've been working with the state, the county, and the Trust [for Public Land] since 1988 to get this settled. We've extended the contract [with the Trust] six or seven times, but now we'll have to pursue development."

Mr. Pinkard gave no timetable for such a move.

Cromwell Valley, about three miles northeast of Towson, consists mainly of three adjacent farms. Satyr Hill is the easternmost parcel. In the middle is the 102-acre Sherwood farm, now owned by the Maryland Environmental Trust and the only one protected by law from development.

The westernmost parcel, owned by C. Frederick Eck Jr. and known as Good Fellowship Farm, has already been partially developed. Residents are fighting attempts to increase the potential housing density on the remainder.

On Oct. 28, two of the three members of the state Board of Public Works voted to pull $3.7 million for Satyr Hill Farm from a general obligation bond issue for the purchase of park land.

Although they offered no reason for yanking the project, Mr. Schaefer and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein made it clear they were unhappy with Baltimore County legislators -- who have voted against land acquisition proposals in other counties and against the tax increases that balanced this year's budget.

"Over in Baltimore County, they vote against every expenditure of money. They voted against the budget. . . . They criticized the buying of land elsewhere. They're always critical," Mr. Schaefer said.

Six of the seven county senators and 16 of the 22 members of the House voted against the Schaefer spending and tax package.

State Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, the Republican who represents Cromwell Valley, called the decision to cut Satyr Hill Farm "a crying shame."

"I hope the governor didn't oppose it out of spite, although it appears that he did," Mr. Boozer said. "Plenty of people in that district voted for him."

It is unlikely that bond money will be made available for the remainder of the Schaefer administration, Mr. Boozer said. "Maybe we can get the money into the capital budget during the next legislative session," he added, but called that option a long shot.

Mr. Pinkard, the Merrick family spokesman, said it was unfortunate that the farm acquisition has become a political issue.

"The property has to be liquidated for estate purposes," he said. "It also has some debt on it, so we'll have to move ahead on development."

Debi Osborne, director of the Chesapeake Land Project for the Trust for Private Land, a non-profit land conservation group, said the trust will probably try for one more option on the property.

"We haven't given up yet," she said.

Ms. Osborne's group, working as an intermediary between the landowner, the county and the state, has already spent $10,000 on options for the Merrick property.

Without state money, the trust would have to rely on private donations to rescue the Merrick farm from development.

Meanwhile, the undeveloped portion of the Eck property is caught up in a complex dispute between Mr. Eck, the county's zoning office and the Campaign to Save Cromwell Valley, a coalition of residents opposed to further building.

Sixty-two homes have already been built on 60 acres of the 137-acre Eck tract. The remaining two parcels have been zoned for residential development for years, but Mr. Eck wants to increase the density on the site.

The zoning commissioner ruled in August that Mr. Eck has the right to seek higher density than current zoning allows.

But residents protested and the county Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a hearing Feb. 2 to decide the issue.

Beyond the density dispute is a basic question of conflict between the county's master plan for development and the comprehensive zoning plan passed into law by the County Council in 1988.

While the Eck property is already zoned for residential building, the master plan calls for preserving undeveloped parts of the valley for open space and park land.

David M. Meadows, attorney for Mr. Eck, said, "The master plan is only a guide, a planning tool the county may use."

"This is private property," he added. "It has met all the requirements for development and should be allowed to go forward."

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