Hayfields Farm, the Hunt Valley estate that has survived 15 years of efforts to develop it, is threatened once again -- this time by plans for an 18-hole golf course and 50 luxury homes.
Area residents and Baltimore County planners maintain that the project can't be completed without destroying the historic farm, which is the gateway to the county's agricultural heartland.
The latest battle over use of the 474-acre farm, most of which sits between Shawan and Western Run roads just west of Interstate 83, opened yesterday when the county Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend against approving a request by developer Nicholas Mangione that 69 acres be changed to a higher density. The Planning Board's recommendation goes to the county Board of Appeals, which must make the final decision.
John C. Bernstein, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council and one of 11 people to speak against the proposal yesterday, said the county long has declined to allow development west of I-83.
"We fear that this zoning change would be the opening wedge that would destroy that long-standing demarcation line," Mr. Bernstein said.
The first major effort to develop Hayfields occurred in 1980.
The property is owned by Toll House Inc., an entity of Mangione Family Enterprises, chaired by Nicholas Mangione.
Mr. Mangione wants the 50 luxury homes to surround the golf course, which would require a special exception from the county zoning commissioner because of the rural zoning. The current zoning allows 40 houses.
John M. Mangione, vice president of Toll House, said the profit to be realized from the construction and sale of 10 extra houses is needed to defray the cost of developing a golf course. Without them, he said, the project wouldn't be possible.
Speaking in behalf of the zoning change before the vote was Nicholas Bosley Merryman, 84, whose family owned the property from the 1850s until 1975.
"The buildings on the property and the farm itself are in such a deteriorated condition," he said. "If a golf course and some nice houses would result in the restoration of the place, then that would be the best thing for the farm."
"It's a disgrace that the historic buildings on the farm have been allowed to deteriorate," said Lynne Hastings, who lives near Hayfields and is the curator of the Hampton Mansion. "The county should put all its energies into preserving this historical farm and keeping development off the property." Mr. Mangione denied that the buildings have been allowed to deteriorate on purpose.
Because the rezoning request comes between the county's quadrennial comprehensive rezoning cycles, Mr. Mangione has to prove there is an error in the existing zoning.
Almost two-thirds of Hayfields is zoned for one dwelling unit per 50 acres. On the rest, 178.5 acres, one dwelling can be built on every five acres. The main house, built in 1805, and six outbuildings are in the county's Historic Landmarks List. The farm is part of the Maryland Historic Trust inventory list and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Three hundred acres are under cultivation on land considered to be among the county's the most productive.
County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said yesterday he is opposed to any rezoning, a position consistent with his stands in representing the area for nine years as a councilman.
However, he said, a golf course and a residential community should be explored as an option if it can be done without rezoning because of the acute need for golf courses in the county.
A report from the planning staff of the Office of Planning and Zoning strongly recommended against the rezoning and the development, "If there is any error in the placement of the zoning boundaries on Hayfields Farm, it would unquestionably be . . . that too little of the landmark farm is currently protected," the report said.
The report also noted that the golf course community would be "directly and inescapably contrary to the county's Master Plan goals and policies with respect to historic preservation, scenic views and agricultural preservation."
Besides the Valleys Planning Council, which is one of the largest and most influential land preservation organizations, the county Landmarks Preservation Commission and several local community groups such as the Falls Road Community Association opposed the rezoning.
"We may not like what the developer has planned for the farm, but we can't oppose what the developer can legally build on his land," Mr. Bernstein said. "We will fight what he wants to do above what is legally allowed."
The first effort to develop the farm came in 1980 when developer I. H. "Bud" Hammerman, then owner, requested high density zoning to build a 1,250-unit residential community. Community residents and the county rose up to defeat the proposal.
Every four years since then, the owners of the property, first Mr. Hammerman and later Mr. Mangione, have sought to rezone the farm during the comprehensive rezoning. Each time, the County Council turned down the request.
Mangione Family Enterprises was the developer of Turf Valley Country Club in Howard County.