No bids, but many ideas for Smith Farm No prospective buyers come forward with offers for $8 million property

October 28, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Although no one seems to have the money to pay for the $8 million Smith Farm, almost everyone has ideas of what they would like to see done with the 300-acre property in east Columbia.

Fourteen community leaders, politicians and county officials -- called together by County Executive Charles I. Ecker -- spent several hours late yesterday afternoon discussing possible uses of the property along Route 175 between the Columbia villages of Oakland Mills and Long Reach.

The property's owner, Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith, died in February without a will. Because she had never married and had no children, the land reverts to two of her father's relatives, Carolyn L. Smith of Baltimore and Tabi L. Williamson of Eureka, Calif.

Smith was known as a recluse who refused to sell to the Rouse Co. when Columbia was formed 30 years ago, and refused to cash a check for almost $150,000 that the state gave her in payment for the strip of land it took for Route 175.

And some of the ideas for her farm -- such as turning it into a facility for in-line skaters and drivers of remote-control model cars -- seemed about as eccentric as her personality.

Others were more conventional -- a park with ball fields and pathways or a demonstration farm. But first, the county or someone has to buy the place.

Timothy Murphy of Eureka, Calif., Williamson's attorney, said yesterday his client has not received any offers from prospective buyers.

"We'd certainly be interested in anyone's offer," Murphy said. "People are trying to pressure us into doing something, but we're not going to be pressured."

Many have suggested that the county, state and such private groups as the Columbia Association pool funds to purchase the property, which is assessed at $7.7 million. Ecker has asked the state for $4 million to help.

Last week, the heirs paid $652,211 in state inheritance taxes on the value of the property, as well as on the $149,008 state check for the portion of her property condemned to make room for a four-lane Route 175 and 28,200 shares of Oneok Inc. that are estimated to be worth $837,187.

Paying off that bill removes one incentive for a quick sale of the property to developers, but the heirs still must pay as much as 55 percent in federal estate taxes sometime in the next few months.

At yesterday's meeting, county officials said they are confident that if they can present a viable option of possible recreational uses, the heirs would consider it.

"Although they've paid the state taxes, they still want to get rid of the property in a hurry," Ecker said.

The group urged Jeff Bourne, county recreation and parks director, who is heading the effort to find a use for the property, to consider the impact lighted ball fields, access to the property and parking will have on the surrounding communities. Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Owen Brown villages border the property.

"Given that [federal estate] taxes are due, the attorneys have the fiduciary responsibility to get the highest price," said County Councilman Darrel E. Drown. "That could mean the property could go for a pretty high penny. We are putting the cart before the horse [because] if we don't team up with the state, the Columbia Association and others, we're not going to be a viable option."

But Columbia Council member Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach said that because the property would be a countywide park for all residents, the Columbia Association's role in paying for the land should be limited.

"We should not be used as an equal partner," Januszkiewicz said. "This would be a facility for the entire county. Columbians should not be burdened by it."

One possibility is that the county may buy a portion of the land for a park with the rest going to developers. But everyone at the meeting seemed to know that without several million dollars in hand, they were just speculating.

"This is a bit of pie-in-the-sky because we may not get it all," said Joan Lancos, a county planning board member. "The developers are already out there salivating over the potential of this property."

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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