Signs advocate preserving Smith property as a park Authorities remove pair of postings

origin a mystery

September 04, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

You could be entering Smith Farm Park.

That's what two black-and-white signs in the median strip along Route 175 told passers-by for two days as they approached 300 acres of undeveloped farmland owned by the late Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith in the middle of Columbia.

How the signs got there and who put them there remains a mystery. Some area residents said they noticed the signs Sunday afternoon, but state highway officials removed them late Tuesday afternoon, saying they were illegal.

It's not a mystery why the signs went up. Many people want to see the land used for a public park, but the price -- the property is assessed at $7.7 million -- could be too high.

"We sure would love to see it preserved. It would make a beautiful park, but we didn't put up any signs," said John Byrd, chief of the bureau of parks and program services in Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks.

Smith, who never married and had no children, died in February without a will, leaving the fate of her property uncertain. For decades, preservationists, developers and community activists sought to buy the property from Smith, who refused.

Since Smith's death, legislators, community activists and the Columbia Council have formed two task forces to lobby county officials to condemn the property for a park. A recent map of proposed county parks designates the farm as an ideal location for a large regional park.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he wants to see money from county, state and federal sources and such private entities as the Columbia Association and local conservancy groups pooled to purchase the property. He said he plans to meet with "interested parties" in the next two to three weeks to discuss the property's future.

Because Smith did not make provisions for the land, it reverts, according to her father's will, to two of his surviving relatives.

The relatives, Carolyn Smith of Baltimore and Tabi Williamson of Eureka, Calif., won't reveal their plans for the land, but county officials say they have inquired about possible zoning changes to develop the property.

According to an appraisal conducted at the request of Carolyn Smith's attorney, Forrest F. Bramble Jr., more than 200 housing units could be built on the land.

But the pair of signs on Route 175 point to another purpose.

"I have no idea who put [them] out there, but it sure was an enterprising citizen," said Sarah Uphouse, Long Reach village manager. "It made me chuckle, to see citizens taking the initiative, saying, 'This is what we really want.' "

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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