Traffic concerns spur county to stop Sherwood House rentals Entrance to popular estate is seen as too dangerous

October 22, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Concerns about traffic safety have spurred the closing of a popular Baltimore County-owned estate that generates thousands of dollars in rentals for weddings, bar mitzvahs and community meetings.

The county Department of Recreation and Parks recently stopped booking public and private events at the Sherwood House in Cromwell Valley Park east of Towson so that officials can re-evaluate the entrance off winding, two-lane Cromwell Bridge Road.

"I'm concerned about the safety of the roadway," said John F. Weber, director of the department. "It's part of a whole evaluation of how we use the park."

Community members also are worried about the entrance to the Sherwood driveway.

"It's dangerous coming off Cromwell Bridge Road," said Wayne Skinner, a member of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Council. "We don't want anyone to get hurt or killed there."

The council, which uses the park for an annual Fourth of July picnic, is drafting a letter to the parks department asking for roadway improvements.

No accidents have occurred at the park entrance, according to Patrick McGregor, manager of the site.

Police records show only that 12 accidents occurred along the stretch of Cromwell Bridge Road from the Beltway to Satyr Hill Road in 1996 and one in 1997, police spokesman Bill Toohey said. Most resulted from people driving too fast for road conditions.

"It is a curvy, twisty, miserable road," he acknowledged.

The county traffic engineering division, which evaluated the park entrance at the request of the parks department, also determined "there was a problem," said Steve Weber, chief of the division. "We did find there was a need to make improvements."

The parks department will continue to honor 24 bookings scheduled through September 1998, Weber said. Also, county government agencies will have access to the house for meetings.

But the department stands to lose about $62,000 annually from rental fees. Last year, it was rented 130 times for events.

Officials say the money only covered expenses at the 1935 English Tudor-style country house. "It is not an enterprise-system park," Weber said.

No timetable or price has been set to reconfigure the Sherwood House entrance, Weber said. But money will be available for improvements in next year's budget, he added.

The house also needs such renovations as air conditioning and restrooms accessible to the disabled, he said.

The county began acquiring the 367-acre park, about 10 minutes east of Towson, from three property owners in 1993.

The cost of $8 million was split evenly with the state.

Sherwood House, once the elegant 27-room home of Donald and Frances Sherwood, sits on the center, 102-acre parcel of the park, surrounded by gardens and pasture. Originally a gentleman's farm, the Sherwoods operated an apple and peach orchard, sold eggs and chickens, and raised farm animals for the family's kitchen.

Because of the property's ties to agriculture, the parks department is considering farm-related activities there, Weber said.

For the past two years, the house -- which features a paneled meeting room and working fireplace, a dining room with hand-painted wallpaper, a library and kitchen -- has been available to the public for parties and events for $535 on weekends and $250 on weekdays.

Recently, Towson Development Corp., a nonprofit community improvement association, used the facility for an annual planning meeting.

"We decided to have the retreat at the Sherwood House because of its proximity to Towson on the one hand and its pastoral beauty on the other," said Stephen J. Nolan, TDC president. "In the evening, we dined under the trees. It was marvelous."

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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