Officials from Howard ponder bid for farm Md., county may pool funds

300-acre property is last undeveloped tract in area

September 11, 1997|By Craig Timberg and Dana Hedgpeth | Craig Timberg and Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

State and local officials from Howard County may pool their resources to make a several-million-dollar offer to buy the Smith Farm, a 300-acre property on Route 175 that is east Columbia's last big undeveloped parcel.

Howard's state delegates and senators met yesterday with the County Council and County Executive Charles I. Ecker to discuss several issues, including the Smith Farm, which some officials would like to see turned into a park.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat whose east Columbia district includes the farm, told the group that he has talked to Gov. Parris N. Glendening about the possibility of a $4 million state grant to help the county purchase the property.

The Smith Farm's estimated value is $7.7 million. Gray suggested that the county and some local nonprofit groups -- including perhaps the Columbia Association -- could commit the rest of the money needed to make a serious offer.

"You need to have money on the table to be able to sit down with the heirs," Gray told the group.

Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith, owner of the land, died in February without a will, leaving the fate of the property unclear.

A sign of commitment from the County Council might be a condition of Glendening's support for a state grant, said Gray, who may propose that the council pass a resolution endorsing the idea.

Several of the officials yesterday morning supported the idea of a state grant. Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat representing east Columbia, handed out a draft copy of a bill requesting a smaller amount, $2.5 million, from the state.

After the meeting, Ecker said he supports setting aside some money for an offer to Smith's heirs -- if other groups also commit money.

"Some would be available from the county, whether it's $4 million, $1 million or $500,000," said Ecker. "All these other players need to be involved, too."

But Columbia Council members -- who are in charge of the huge homeowners association -- say they have not received a formal request to provide money for the farm.

"It's hard to answer whether or not we'd get involved because we haven't seen any proposals," said Chairman Joseph P. Merke. "To just put money in a county project isn't what we do."

"If we put money in this, we want a park to be a Columbia park," Merke said.

The Columbia Council is holding public hearings on its proposed $46 million budget for next fiscal year. The council is expected to approve the budget by late February or early March.

"If we're going to do something, now is the time to do it since we're going through the budget process," Merke said.

Meanwhile, Ronald Ledford, who lives in Oakland Mills village near the Smith property, has started "Neighbors for E. C. Smith." The $50 membership will fund experts and attorneys, he said, to stop development that could cause property values to decline.

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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