Development plan irks North Balto. Co.

June 12, 1995|By Patrick Gilbert and Liz Atwood | Patrick Gilbert and Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writers

Northern Baltimore County is a place apart, a land of rolling green hills, horse farms and gentlemen's estates.

Its residents come from the far side of Maryland and the other side of the world, from the City of Baltimore and its suburbs of Towson and Cockeysville. A few were fortunate enough to grow up there. But all have found their little piece of heaven in the northern valleys of Baltimore County.

Now, they say, the devil of development is knocking at their gate.

Valley residents are battling a proposal by Hayfields Farm's new owners, the Mangione family, to build houses and a golf course at the farm, which the Marquis de Lafayette once honored with a silver tankard in 1824 as the best-managed in Maryland.

At stake is much more than the historic farm, most of which sits between Shawan and Western Run roads just west of Interstate 83. Hayfields' strategic location, at the eastern edge of the valleys that spread northwest from the Baltimore Beltway in a blanket of affluence, makes it a barrier to Hunt Valley and the county's urban core. If it is devel- oped, some valley residents concede, they will subdivide their own land, adding to the checkerboard of development.

That would be a dramatic change for the Valleys -- Greenspring, Caves, Worthington and Belfast -- which have been protected by the most restrictive rural zoning in Maryland.

The battle lines have been drawn. On one side are the economic interests -- landowners trying to get the most for their property and meet the demands of a growing, golf-starved county. On the other, farmers and other residents pleading to preserve a less-hurried way of life.

"Once that barrier has been let down, it would be like a cancer growing and coming across the valley," says Betty Fenwick, whose family owns 745 acres west of Hayfields. She says family members have agreed that if Hayfields is developed, they, too, will sell their land for development.

Says Barbara Campbell, whose grandfather was the first black landowner in the Hayfields area and who still attends Gough United Methodist Church there: "If the Hayfields is developed and that changes the valley, something will be lost that can never be replaced."

The uproar was triggered by developer Nicholas B. Mangione's plan to build 50 high-priced houses and a golf course on Hayfields. Mr. Mangione, who built the Turf Valley resort north of Columbia, is awaiting county approvals for the plan. Without those approvals, which would include a rezoning, he could only build 40 houses on the 474-acre tract.

But residents -- whether they consider the Valleys a lifestyle or a livelihood -- are ready to fight. Led by the Valleys Planning Council, they're looking to raise $100,000 for the legal battle. Some even talk of spending millions to buy the farm.

Eva Bryan is one of the newest recruits in the fight.

She and her husband, Cedrick, head of nephrology at Maryland General Hospital, typify the new wealth in the Valleys -- where the median household income is about $80,000, twice the countywide figure.

Mrs. Bryan had always yearned for a home that would remind her of the estate where she grew up in her native Australia.

Six years ago, when the Bryans were living in Baltimore, she found her dream on 14 acres overlooking Western Run Road near Butler -- about two miles from Hayfields.

They gradually expanded their modest, two-bedroom house into airy rooms and long porches that overlook patios and terraced gardens.

What's at stake now, she says, is not just the prospect of traffic and noise. She fears losing the contentment found after years of searching.

"It's not greed or selfishness," she says, at the picnic table on the front patio. "It's just finding something you really, really love. . . . It's an amazing cure for homesickness."

Much of the land in the Valleys is protected from intense development by government fiat. For example, more than 40,000 acres of valley land is in a rural preservation district that allows only one house per 50 acres, according to the county Office of Planning and Zoning. On thousands more acres, zoning allows one house per five acres.

Such restrictions have helped to limit development on Hayfields.

The farm helped introduce red-and-white Hereford cattle to the United States. And it was the farm of John Merryman, a Confederate sympathizer arrested for treason and imprisoned at Fort McHenry after he burned a Parkton bridge to keep Union troops from moving south.

The last of the Merryman family to own Hayfields was John Merryman Franklin. His widow, Emily, sold the farm in 1975 to a developer, who proposed a 1,600-unit housing community.

Area residents opposed that plan, and the county repeatedly has rejected zoning changes needed for high-density development.

The proposal of Mr. Mangione -- whose family bought the farm in 1986 -- is more modest, and would help meet the county's quest for more upscale homes and golf courses.

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