Battling to save the land Concerted effort bearing fruit in Cromwell Valley

February 28, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

Angry citizens bang on bureaucracy's door, asking to be heard, but no one answers. Letters and phone calls are ignored until election time, then it's lip service until the votes are cast.

At least that's the way it used to be.

The effort to preserve Cromwell Valley, three miles north of Towson in Baltimore County, is strikingly different. In this case, citizens and bureaucrats worked together. Last month, Gov. William Donald Schaefer added his political muscle to the cause and declared that he wanted all of the valley preserved from development.

Now, county and state officials are preparing to buy Satyr Hill Farm, the valley's 220-acre centerpiece, for $3.7 million. Preliminary negotiations are under way to buy the valley's other two farms.

The 102-acre Sherwood Farm, next to Satyr Hill Farm, is protected from development in perpetuity through an agreement between its owner and the state. It can be sold as a farm, but state and county acquisition would provide public access.

Sixty acres of the third valley farm, the 137-acre Good Fellowship Farm, already have been developed, and neighborhood

associations are fighting further development. The property is included in Governor Schaefer's ambitious plan for the valley.

None of this came easily. There was a lot of back and forth over the last 10 years: phone calls and letters to politicians and bureaucrats; information meetings for concerned neighbors; all the dirty little chores, such as delivering fliers to each mailbox in the area.

Julia Randall remembers the struggle.

The retired Hollins College English professor, author of seven books of poetry, was there at the beginning in the early 1980s, living in Long Green Valley and worrying about its future.

"We finally got Long Green Valley on the national historical register, which will make development difficult," she recalled recently from North Bennington, Vt., where she now lives, "and our concerns just kind of spread to Cromwell Valley."

Others joined her: Edward Blanton, president of the Long Green Valley Association; and Rob Deford and Elizabeth Hartline, "concerned citizens with nothing to gain from all the work they put into it except personal satisfaction," said Mrs. Randall.

"I would write letters to people and get rebuffed, or get no answer at all," she said. "One time I wrote to one of the landowners in the valley and just kind of asked what his plans for the property were. I got a letter back saying I could talk to the executors of his estate when the time came. I guess he thought it wasn't any of my business, which I suppose it wasn't."

When she left, she turned the problem over to Stanley Pollack, retired chairman of the Towson State University art department.

"Julia Randall just came to my house one day in 1987 and dumped a bunch of papers on Cromwell Valley on me," he recalled. Mr. Pollack, 71, is president of the Summerfield Farms Association, a dues-paying community group of about 250 families in the Glen Arm area.

The association picked up the challenge at a time when community groups were gaining a voice in the county development process.

"Up until Dennis Rasmussen became county executive, there was no easy way for citizen groups to make themselves heard," Mr. Pollack said. "Zoning was something between the county planning office and the developer, and there was no real relationship with the public."

The rules have since changed. Public hearings became mandatory. Government officials listened.

Roger B. Hayden, the county executive, "has been open to us," Mr. Pollack said.

"We had a meeting with him one day on Cromwell Valley and he brought in all his department heads to meet us. They've all been more than cooperative."

P. David Fields, director of the county Office of Planning and Zoning, said the community associations "were constructive, patient and tolerant of our problems."

"They just didn't go around screaming about developers and county officials. The 'Campaign to Save Cromwell Valley' group turned up at the meetings, got an attorney, really went about things in an orderly way, and got results," he said.

For Mr. Pollack, the success of saving the valley shows the power that community associations have when they organize and make government understand their needs.

"We actually got quite professional about this," he said, shuffling through some maps and charts of Cromwell Valley.

"You learn who to see, what words to use. You have to make yourself known. It might take awhile for it to get through to them, but once they catch on, they're responsive. . . . I pass the valley practically every day, and it is a pleasure to look down into it any season of the year. Vast numbers of people drive Cromwell Bridge Road, see the valley, and are refreshed by it. I think it would be a crime to destroy it."

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