Schaefer's Whim

November 19, 1992

If the natural splendors of the Merrick farm in Baltimore County's Cromwell Valley are to be bulldozed for a pricey housing tract, we might have the perfect name for the development:

Schaefer's Whim.

For it's at the whim of Gov. William Donald Schaefer whether the 216-acre property is preserved through an outlay of public money or handed over to developers.

Since 1988, the Merrick family has sought to sell its land to the state and the county to ensure its preservation as a precious green expanse just outside Towson. The situation has grown more urgent because the family now wishes to sell soon.

The county would pay $1 million of the $3.7 million price and lend the state $825,000 for the acquisition. The state would kick in $1.875 million.

However, to balance its budget in recent years, the state has looted its Open Space program of $117 million. As a result, the state has had to use bonds to buy threatened properties. Such bonds are available for a Merrick purchase, but an obstacle has emerged in the form of petty politics.

The governor and state comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who constitute a majority on the three-member Board of Public Works, have ruled against using bonds to buy the land. The apparent reason? Their grudge against county legislators who opposed state tax hikes passed last April.

A few years ago, then-Sen. Frank Kelly of Baltimore County used his influence to help save a large tract in Oregon Ridge. It's probably expecting too much to hope that a county legislator will step forward now and arrange a similar deal.

Ironically, the county delegation and County Executive Roger Hayden might change Mr. Schaefer's mind by cooperating with the $147 million budget deal now before the General Assembly. County officials have played along to date -- but there have been troubling defections in the House delegation. Still, if the county proves helpful in passing this bill, the reward might be a decision by the governor to free up bond money for the Merrick farm.

In the meantime, county officials should look into obtaining the property with county funds or organizing one of Mr. Hayden's beloved private-public partnerships for the purpose of buying the land. To rely on Mr. Schaefer's whim would be foolhardy. And to risk losing the Merrick property forever, when it's the government's stated philosophy to preserve open land in the north county, would be hypocritical and tragic.

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