Horse center site eyed County may buy farm, build facility for equestrian activities

Land worth about $650,000

Opponents fear plan would help promote Reuwer development

October 03, 1997

Howard County might finally have found a spot to give horse enthusiasts their much-wanted equestrian center -- a farm at Route 99 and Marriottsville Road.

But some contend that the proposed center would use public money to compete with private enterprise while giving a developer a plum for promoting his development.

The county Department of Recreation and Parks wants to buy a 60-acre parcel, complete with an indoor riding ring, three miles of white fencing and several barns, that is part of a 22-unit housing community being built by longtime Howard County developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr.

If the county buys the property, which Reuwer says is worth $600,000 to $700,000, a nonprofit group of equestrians probably would maintain the proposed 18-stall center.

"It's not like I'm the hero or anything," said Reuwer, who has raised horses for more than 30 years. "I'm an equestrian person myself. As long as I don't get hurt [financially], this is going to be a win-win situation."

To some equestrians in the county, the deal -- if it goes through -- would fulfill a decade-old promise by county officials to provide a horse facility for shows, trials and boarding.

But other equestrian-industry experts fear that the government-owned facility might harm privately operated horse farms in the county.

"It's an unneeded proposal," said Darryl Puttman, who runs Sun Dance Equestrian Center in Lisbon. "It's going to cost taxpayers half a million [dollars] to buy land to fill a need that the private sector is already fulfilling."

Although there are four horse facilities in the county -- the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, the Columbia Association-run Horse Center in Columbia, Schooley Mill Park in Highland and Sun Dance -- equestrians say the growth of their pastime demands additional show rings, more stalls and greater access to trails.

"A lot of people think horses are only for the rich," said Malcolm Commer, a University of Maryland livestock economist who is heading the horse-center effort. "We need to have a public facility to [serve] young people. If they don't have access to horses, one of these days they're going to think horses are things you only see in the zoo."

According to a 1993 statewide survey that Commer conducted, Howard's 9,000 equestrians generate about $57 million a year in economic activity in the county -- part of $617.9 million generated by horse enthusiasts in the Baltimore region.

Building a multifacted horse center -- including an indoor arena, stables and dressage, schooling and show rings -- in the county could boost this economic activity, Commer said.

Even some who had supported an equestrian center caution that Reuwer's proposed deal with the county would allow him to promote his development of 1-acre lots, which are less than two miles from Patapsco Valley State Park, as an "equestrian-type community," without paying for the horse facilities. Some equestrians fear that the development of the land -- once the home of Diane Rachuba, daughter of Towson Town Center developer Ralph DeChiaro -- might encroach on the equestrian center.

"Mr. Reuwer would like to see us use that land so he could boost his development as a horse-oriented place to live," said Shirley Geis, a 4-H horse leader. "We wanted a place buffered from housing. People will complain about the noise, the traffic, the manure and the flies."

Originally, about a half-dozen local horse groups had asked county officials to set aside a portion of the closed Alpha Ridge Landfill on Marriottsville Road for the center. But county officials want to turn some of the land there into much-needed soccer fields.

For the past few years, the proposed horse center has repeatedly been pulled from the parks department's capital budget.

Jeff Bourne, county parks director, said that the fiscal 2004 budget is the next possibility for budgeting the money for development of the center.

Horse groups probably would be responsible for an estimated $20,000 to $30,000 worth of renovations needed on fencing, barns and outdoor show rings at the Reuwer site. They would also have to fund the daily maintenance of the horse center. Though that cost has not been determined, many groups say they don't have such resources.

"That's asking for a tremendous commitment from horse groups that don't have that kind of money in their coffers," Geis said.

The county expects to choose a company to appraise the property within the next several weeks.

For some, spending money on an equestrian center makes little sense for a parks department that would like to create a park on the 300 undeveloped acres of the Smith Farm along Route 175.

That property's future is unclear. Its owner, Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith, died in February without a will.

Since her death, dozens of elected officials, preservationists and area residents have scrambled to acquire the property from her two heirs. Many want to see county, state and federal and private funds pooled to buy the property, which is said to be worth about $8 million, for a park.

"We're going to get lots of people to benefit from the Smith Farm, whether we build something on it or not," said Kathryn Mann, president of the Howard County Citizens Association. "The horse center may not draw as many people. The county should be putting its money into buying the Smith property and let the private sector put its money into a horse center."

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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