Court ruling puts land in question County church, residents wonder who owns parcels

April 16, 1996|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,SUN STAFF

Members of Delmont United Methodist Church in Severn could lose part of the lot where they've parked cars since the 1920s as a result of a court decision this year that they fear returned the property to its original owners.

And the decision has others in the area, who bought land at tax sales, worrying whether they could lose their homes.

"Some of the people are a little concerned," said Michael Shylanski, president of the Greater Severn Improvement Association. "Does that mean they don't own the land?"

The land in the neighborhood was part of a larger parcel of at least 300 acres in Severn and Odenton once owned by David Scarlett Ross, who went bankrupt about 1926 and stopped paying property taxes.

Over the years, the county acquired parts of the land and sold them at tax sales, according to Robert M. Pollock, an assistant county attorney.

During the administration of former County Executive Robert R. Neale, the county hired researchers to find properties on which taxes had not been paid, Mr. Pollock said. They found Thompson Farms, now called Delmont, and land in the Bonaventure neighborhood of Odenton, which had been owned by Mr. Ross and for which taxes hadn't been paid in 70 years.

The county took over the land last year and began to give it away, signing a 20-year lease with the Delmont church for an acre of nearby woods, Mr. Shylanski said.

But the descendants of Mr. Ross filed suit in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, claiming the county did not have a formal deed for the land and, therefore, did not own it and could not sell or give it away, Mr. Pollock said.

Judge Bruce C. Williams agreed and told the county to give back the land. Meanwhile, the family agreed with the county to pay three years' worth of back property taxes and allow the county to keep any Ross properties in the fourth assessment district it finds for which taxes were not paid.

The county retained one 1.6-acre lot in Thompson farms and the Ross family got back eight parcels, including a 17-acre lot, a 20-acre lot and the land next to the church, Mr. Pollock said.

The problem with the settlement is that the members of the church don't know whether the land they paved for a parking lot, which once was owned by the Ross family, was included in the settlement, said Daniel Stone, one of the ministers of the church.

Mr. Stone said he is not too concerned that the Ross family will try to take away that portion of the parking lot. But nearby residents who bought their land at tax sales aren't so sure.

"It's a complicated mess," said Ray Ringgold, a self-proclaimed Delmont historian who has lived there all of his 70 years.

"There are probably thousands of lots that were sold and people have houses on them today," he said. "How many other properties are the same way?"

Mr. Pollock said those people shouldn't have to worry. "It's highly unlikely that anything would happen to the property," he said.

Mr. Stone said no one from the Ross family has contacted the church. "They have not asked us to buy it, nor have they said get off of it," he said. "I think they're just ignoring it. That's what I assume by their not saying anything."

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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