Smith estate's value grows by $1.6 million Park proponents hope windfall can cover taxes

October 10, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The reported value of Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith's estate has grown by $1.6 million, giving hope to those who want to turn the undeveloped farm into a park because the estate is worth enough for the heirs to pay state inheritance taxes.

There were fears that the new owners of the land straddling Route 175 would sell it to developers to pay the $576,000 tax bill that is due Thursday, not giving preservationists time to raise enough state, county and private funds to make a substantial offer for the property.

But recent filings with the Howard County Register of Wills office show that Smith had previously unknown assets -- a $165,000 portion of a property on Curtis Bay in Anne Arundel County, $1.3 million in corporate stocks and about $175,000 in cash, including $109,000 in a Swiss bank account -- that bring the value of her land and estate to more than $13 million.

"The immediate thing is that now they could pay the taxes on the property with that money," said David Pardoe, a representative of the Central Maryland Audubon Society, one of the groups hoping to see the land between the Columbia villages of Oakland Mills and Long Reach turned into a regional park.

"If they make liquid their assets, they are buying some time on deciding what to do with the land," he said.

Smith died in February at 82 without a will. Because she had not married and had no children, the fate of the property reverted to her late father's will, and it will go to two of his relatives, Carolyn L. Smith of Baltimore and Tabi L. Williamson of Eureka, Calif.

Neither has revealed any plans for the land, which has been assessed at $7.68 million, though their attorneys have talked with county officials to discuss the land's zoning and the possibility of preserving it. Forrest F. Bramble of Baltimore, who represents one of the heirs, did not return telephone calls yesterday.

The state attorney general's office has ruled that the land will be taxed at the 7.5 percent inheritance tax rate in effect when Smith's father, Henry E. Smith, died in 1939. That is the tax that is due next week.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker and state representatives wrote letters this week to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, asking for $4 million in fiscal year 1998 to buy the land, about half what it will probably cost. In the last few weeks, Ecker has met with the county's legislative delegation and three national conservancy groups to discuss the possible financing of a purchase of the 300 acres with a mixture of public and private funds.

"We want to make [the heirs] a deal that will make economic sense to them and preserve it from developers," said State Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard County Republican. "If that is successful, that would mean any upfront deposit would come from the county or from private preservation groups."

But some preservationists who have been asked by the county administration to help buy the property say they are not interested.

"It is a very unique piece of property for the local area, but it really doesn't fit our area of being a national concern of preserving endangered species," said Steve Bunker of the Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Va.

At least three groups trying to turn the land into a park have been formed -- by area residents, the Columbia Council and county officials. One group has started cataloging the wildlife found on the wooded property.

Other taxes eventually will be due on Smith's property and her other assets, which include 28,200 shares of stock in the natural gas company Oneok Inc. worth $837,187 and an uncashed $149,008 check from the state for the strip of Smith's land that was turned into Route 175.

Smith's personal assets, now estimated to be worth $5.3 million, will be taxed at 10 percent by the state, said Kay K. Hartleb, Howard County's register of wills. Federal estate taxes on Smith's property could be as high as 55 percent.

But those bills can be paid from the proceeds of selling the land, either to a developer or the preservation groups. It is the looming deadline of the state inheritance taxes that has caused many to fear a quick sale to a developer.

"Maybe they'll find more money in the house, who knows?" said former state Del. Virginia M. Thomas, who tried unsuccessfully to get Smith to preserve her land. "I would hope that as they find more money, they won't need money from a higher development of the land."

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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