For more than six decades, Phillip Thompson has lived and farmed land near what is now Snowden River Parkway.
In the 1930s, he watched as nearby Oakland Mills Road was paved. In the 1960s, the family sold a portion to the Rouse Co. to build condos, houses and shopping centers on land where dairy cows once grazed.
So when Thompson and his wife, Doris, sought to change the zoning on the 4 acres that has sheltered their brick rancher from encroaching development, the two said they were a bit saddened at their neighbors' reaction.
Nearby residents said an emphatic "no" to the Thompsons' proposal to rezone the property from open space to industrial use.
"I wasn't surprised people protested, just disappointed," said Thompson, 75. "The very land they now live on was once my farm. I just want to get my affairs in order and be like everything else around me."
The Thompsons' house, on 4 acres of its own, sits adjacent to the 4-acre parcel along Berger Road. On the immaculate lawn are beds of pink petunias and impatiens and a trickling fountain. Across Berger Road are condos, office space, a tire repair shop and a car wash.
More than a dozen 20-foot pine trees shield the house from traffic noise. And the Thompsons' neighbors have long considered the well-manicured plot a piece of Columbia's 3,000 acres of open space.
At a hearing last month, many residents said the open lot attracted them to neighboring Owen Brown village. Seventeen wrote letters protesting any zoning change.
"We were told when we bought the house that it wouldn't be developed," said Debra Provencher, who lives in the Hopewell community overlooking the Thompsons' property. "Now that's going to change."
Last week, the Howard County Planning Board approved Thompson's request to change the 4 acres of open space to industrial zoning, leaving open a range of development possibilities. On it could be built any light manufacturing operation from an office building to a restaurant or a car repair shop.
For now, Thompson says he has no development plans.
The couple recalls the days of "B.C.," as they call it -- "before Columbia," when open fields covered much of the county and the biggest towns were Elkridge and Laurel.
Their small parcel was once a part of the 127-acre farm Thompson's family has owned since 1928. Thompson began work at age 5, helping in the family's dairy operation, which had 40 to 45 cows.
Thompson's grandfather's farmhouse sat near what is now the intersection of Snowden River Parkway and Tamar Drive. It was torn down about nine months ago, and townhouses soon will take its place.
"I remember my neighbors getting on tractors, riding from farm to farm, helping each other out," Thompson said. "I remember how we came down Oakland Mills Road when it was not much more than dirt and fields all around it."
He still keeps a few 5-gallon metal milk jugs amid yellowed maps of his land in his basement.
In the 1950s, Thompson tried to balance farming with helping run his wife's family's newspaper business, the Ellicott City Times and five other local weeklies. But late nights at the office didn't leave time for the farm.
In 1961, Thompson sold the cows and stopped working the land.
When a real estate agent approached the couple in 1963 about buying large portions of their farm for a disguised buyer, they cautiously welcomed the development. The buyer, James Rouse, built much of Owen Brown village on more than 100 acres they sold him.
After the acquisition, the Thompsons said, Rouse had a private party for them at Kings Contrivance. Rouse, they say, asked Doris to suggest names for the new town.
"I told him, 'Call it anything, but just not Rouseville,' " she said.
Unlike some large landowners who felt they were forced to sell out to the Rouse Co., the Thompsons say they have no regrets.
"I didn't have the pure farmer's vision anymore," Thompson said. "Knowing what was proposed [with Columbia], we served a need for them. They needed the land," he said.
Thompson and his wife recall the cocktail parties Rouse threw to persuade reluctant landowners.
"I always told [Rouse] that he just invited Doris and me because he wanted people to see natives, and we were the only ones left," Thompson said.
The Thompsons, who trace their roots in Howard County to the 1600s, have stayed on their remaining land. They've held wedding receptions for four of their five daughters, countless barbecues and their grandson's lacrosse practice on the open lot.
"We just like it here," Thompson said. "We have our freedoms here, and sometimes we have our invaders who think they own it. We've held out for a long time."
Pub Date: 7/08/97