Growth restraint may have backfired Sale of Glyndon farm follows rezoning push

April 14, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

For years, Frederick Wilson Jr. shooed away the developers who came knocking on his door to dangle seven-figure offers for his land. Even as whole neighborhoods were built at the edge of his 95-acre farm in Baltimore County northwest of the city, Wilson seemed content to live out his days on the property he had called home for seven decades.

But now, in the wake of a community association's push for more restrictive zoning on his property, the 84-year-old retired engineer and dairy farmer has reached a deal to sell the farm, one of the last large, undeveloped tracts in the Glyndon area.

As Wilson's neighbors prepare for a hearing tonight on the proposed 139-home Wilson Farm development, the question being asked is: Did the Glyndon Community Association inadvertently hasten development on the very land where it had sought to limit growth?

"I believe the answer to that is yes," says Thomas J. Gisriel, a lawyer who has represented Wilson. "When I spoke to the people in the Glyndon Community Association, I told them they were creating that danger."

Jerry Katz, who lives near the farm and opposes elements of the development plan, calls Wilson "an antique. He has what he needs to survive -- nothing more, nothing less.

"He drives an old station wagon that must have 200,000 miles on it. Everybody used to kid: 'If he got $6 million, he'd probably dig a hole in his back yard and put it in a cigar box.' "

Wilson says, "I don't like development. But you have to do something sooner or later. You can't take it with you."

He was a boy from the Eastern Shore in 1924 when his father bought the dairy farm on the outskirts of the villages of Glyndon and Reisterstown. Just a few houses could be seen from the farm.

"This place was all open country," Wilson recalls. The area teemed with wildlife. About 50 years ago, he says, he saw a black bear on the "lower fields" near the landmark Sagamore Farms horse farm.

Over the years, he has worked as an engineer, designing bridges for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and for state roads. The family also worked the dairy farm, but "bridges paid more."

On a chilly afternoon last week, Wilson walked past a barn so old that its newer section was built about 1914. The plank walls are gray and rotting. In stalls beneath the floor, the metal brackets that loosely close around the necks of cattle to hold them in place stand rusted, no longer in use.

The dairy operation is long closed. Wilson rents the fields to another farmer, who grows feed corn and soybeans. He lives in a modest frame farmhouse with his older sister.

Last year, as part of a countywide rezoning, the Glyndon Community Association sought more restrictive zoning for nearly all of the land in the Victorian village -- and for Wilson's farm.

Gisriel says Wilson had no plans to develop the land before the rezoning petition was filed but was riled by a move that threatened to decrease his land's value.

The two sides negotiated a deal in which Wilson agreed to the rezoning of about half of his property and agreed to limit development there to 69 houses until he and his sister die or enter a nursing home for health reasons.

The rezoning reduced the number of homes that can be built on the property by about a quarter.

Gisriel says the rezoning was a wake-up call for Wilson. Although the community association agreed not to seek further zoning changes, he had no assurances that another rezoning would not be sought in the future.

Wilson decided to sell his property to Cockeysville-based Southern Land Co., which developed the 47-home Preserve, a neighborhood bordering his farm. The price was not disclosed.

David Altfeld, vice president of Southern Land, describes the rezoning petition as "the turning point" in Wilson's decision to sell.

"He was never excited by the prospect of encroaching residential growth," Altfeld says. "Over the years, he was always pretty firm about not selling."

Wilson says the rezoning request didn't have "too much to do with" his decision to sell. Pressed further, he says little more than, "I would have liked to have kept [the farm] the way it was, but you can't always do that."

Foster Nichols Jr., a vice president of the Glyndon Community Association, said of the group's move to restrict development on Wilson's property: "Even if we had never raised the zoning issue, he would have done what he did at some point, but we would be looking at 180 houses. At worst, we may have hastened [development] a little bit, but it was something we were going to face sooner or later, probably sooner."

At an April 1 hearing, area residents said the proposed development would worsen crowding at schools and cause traffic problems, both sore points in the fast-growing section of the county.

They also bemoaned the loss of open space.

"It's the last piece of rural ground left in that area that has not been developed, that people can still ride by, view deer in the field and get that sense they're still living in a rural community," says Rick Smith, president of the Sagamore Forest/Worthington Hillside Community Association.

Wilson has a hard time understanding neighbors' complaints.

Pointing toward the expensive homes in the Sagamore Forest and Worthington Hillside communities, he says, "They come in and they ruin the woods, then they don't want anybody to build adjacent to them."

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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