County, Md. buy land to extend park Move saves woods from development

November 15, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Patapsco Valley State Park is a little bigger today, thanks to $1.5 million and the work of some Ellicott City neighbors who cared to preserve a small parcel of woods.

The 32-acre property was to be part of a troubled luxury housing development that neighbors fought. The $1.5 million is what the state and Howard County split to buy it.

The land borders the Sucker Branch tributary of the Patapsco River and became park property Oct. 28, when it was purchased from Howard Oaks Inc., of Olney.

Walter J. Miller Jr., the owner of Howard Oaks, had planned to use the land for Governor's Run -- a multi-million dollar development of single-family and luxury town houses on more than 100 acres. The development was never built. Two weeks ago Mr. Miller filed suit against his lender, Maryland National Bank. He plans to sell the remaining land to a builder who will go ahead with the project, said his lawyer, Alan Grochal.

Nearby residents, who had fought building houses on the hilly, wooded property split by the tributary, cheered the news that the land has been added to the park.

"Your children and grandchildren will be able to walk to the waterfall now," said Evelyn Belschner, president of the Patapsco Heights-Church Road Association, one of many groups that fought to preserve the land.

The fight to preserve the 32 acres was "a continuing, ongoing thing," she said. "The message here is that the value of the property to county and the state is very great. It shows that government works. The government does listen to the people."

The state actually paid for the property. But Howard County plans to it back half the cost by 1995, said Jeffrey Bourne, county Bureau of Recreation and Parks director.

The dispute about the financing of Governor's Run emerged in Baltimore City Circuit Court the day after the sale when Howard Oaks filed a $100 million suit against the bank and its parent corporation, MNC Financial, Inc.

The development was to be built near Town & Country Boulevard, Sucker Branch and the Oaks by Normandy Shopping Center.

Mr. Miller alleges that the bank reneged on an agreement to fully finance the project, causing him to file for bankruptcy. He filed bankruptcy papers to reorganize the company last November.

He borrowed about $8 million from the bank between 1987 and 1989 to finance Governor's Run, and was assured of more loans to complete it, the suit alleges.

The suit claims the bank had no intention of offering another loan, and was stringing Mr. Miller along, making him restructure his business and lay off employees to comply with its requests.

The breach of contract cost Mr. Miller "tens of millions," said Murray L. Deutchman, a lawyer representing Howard Oaks.

The suit alleges that bank employees did not want to give Mr. Miller the loan for personal reasons.

"This is the one area that at this time I can't go into," said Mr. Deutchman.

Jeffrey Crouse, a lawyer for Maryland National, declined to comment.

In bankruptcy papers, Mr. Miller claimed $12.4 million in assets and $6.7 million in liabilities for Howard Oaks Inc.; $6 million in assets and $2 million in liabilities for Howard Associates Limited Partnership; and $650,000 in assets and $1.2 million in liabilities for Parkview Development Inc.

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