Preserving scenic roads History: A developer wants to build homes in a meadow believed to have held Gov. Horatio Sharpe's slave quarters. Neighbors are protesting.

November 05, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Turn right past the Bay 50 shopping center on U.S. 50 in Anne Arundel County and the clatter of trucks fades into the silence of a growing community's struggle with its past.

Whitehall Road runs from a Sunoco gas station into fields scarlet with fall, beneath skies alive with geese, past horse farms to the Colonial mansion of Maryland's last British governor.

Next spring a developer wants to build 134 homes in a meadow believed to have held Gov. Horatio Sharpe's slave quarters, over the protests of neighbors who say this will ruin the road's historic character.

To preserve scenic and historic roads such as Whitehall, county officials are studying whether to join a growing number of states requiring landowners to preserve trees and meadows along routes of significant value.

Some developers worry that saving scenic roads might infringe on their rights. Others, like the Bay Ridge Limited Partnership planning the subdivision here, argue they are doing enough to save vistas by limiting the number of new driveways, leaving trees where they can and leaving 50-foot "buffer zones" between houses and scenic roads.

But advocates of stronger protections say government must act to save treasures such as Whitewall Road before they look like suburban streets.

"There are still some really beautiful roads in Anne Arundel County, but it is incredible how many are being torn up by development," said Orlando Ridout IV, whose family has lived on Whitehall Road since 1784.

"People travel great distances to see picturesque landscapes. But if we kept our own back yards picturesque, we wouldn't have to travel to places like Vermont and West Virginia," said Ridout, 75, the great-great-great-great-great- great-grandson of John Ridout, secretary to the state's last Colonial governor.

Anne Arundel County Council Chairwoman Diane Evans introduced a resolution Monday to create a "Scenic and Historic Roads Program" within the next two years.

Some ideas

Although specifics of the program are to be worked out, a study committee has suggested encouraging developers to cluster homes to save scenic meadows, discouraging construction on hills that motorists can see and not widening roads whenever possible.

Evans submitted a list of 32 roads that the scenic road committee had recommended for preservation. One was Whitehall Road, which leads to the 1765 estate of Governor Sharpe overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

"What I am trying to do is preserve the history of Anne Arundel County as much as possible," said Evans. "I feel a physical difference in myself, a decompression, when I am driving on some of these scenic roads. And I think we have to do something now before we lose something special."

No date has been set for a vote on Evans' proposal, but the County Council has voted to endorse the idea in principal.

John Bernstein, director of the Maryland Environmental Trust, said that the goal of preserving scenic roads is praiseworthy. But such proposals are often difficult to enforce, he said, because builders protest that their development rights are being unfairly curtailed.

And Bernstein noted that properties with scenic views often face the most economic pressure. Everyone wants to despoil nature by building homes that look out on nature.

"It's a wonderful idea," said Bernstein. "But it may be very difficult to put teeth into."

Already preserving

Leonard Shapiro, a representative of the Bay Ridge Limited Partnership proposing to build the Lighthouse Landing subdivision on Whitehall Road, said his company has gone out of its way to preserve the historic character of the Whitehall Road area.

The 61-acre meadow where the company plans to start building $250,000 homes next spring has an interesting history.

As part of a routine land survey required by the county three years ago, an archaeology firm unearthed household debris, shells, ceramics and glass and pieces of brick believed to be from the Whitehall estate slave quarters.

After neighbors and historians protested that the site should be preserved because of its value in African-American history, the developers agreed to preserve about a half-acre of open space around the site, said county land-use spokesman John Morris.

In addition, Bay Ridge Limited Partnership has promised to preserve as many trees along Whitehall Road as possible, plant dozens more, refrain from building driveways along the road, and not widen the route, Shapiro said.

Back in time

"If you come down this road in the morning, you feel like you've gone back in time 100 years, because you see so many deer and geese -- it's really just beautiful," said Andrea Hinson, who trains horses.

Molly Ridout, Orlando Ridout's daughter and a historian, said she thinks it's "reprehensible" that developers would invade such a historic area.

"It will mean a tremendous amount of additional traffic. And it will mean a real deterioration of the scenic quality of the neighborhood," said Ridout, 40. "We need to preserve our quality of life in areas like this."

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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