Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's plan to build ball fields and nature trails at the coveted corner of Greenspring Valley and Falls roads has one hitch: The owner doesn't want to sell the land.
Clarence L. Elder, a self-described entrepreneur and real estate investor who owns the 90-acre tract at the entrance to the Green Spring Valley, has refused to allow county appraisers on the property and is labeling threats by the county to condemn the land as racist.
"If I didn't own it, they would not be so eager to obtain it," said Elder, who is black.
Elder said he was insulted when county officials called to ask him to accompany an appraiser onto the property before asking him whether he wanted to sell.
"It was an affront that no one talked to me about it," said Elder. "The property is not for sale."
In his annual budget address to the County Council Thursday, Ruppersberger proposed that the county buy the land to preserve it from development. The county is looking at the possibility of building six or seven ball fields -- some of them lighted -- and a nature facility. To protect the land, the county would donate it to the Maryland Environmental Trust.
The county has refused requests to develop the site, known as Meadowood Farm. The property, which lacks public sewer service, is subject to the county's most restrictive zoning. Only two houses could be built on the entire tract.
Ruppersberger called Elder's charges of racism "extremely unfortunate."
"It has nothing to do with race or culture. I brought Mr. Elder in and explained to him how important it was," Ruppersberger said.
County spokesman Michael H. Davis said the county would probably offer $700,000 to $800,000 for the agriculturally zoned land. If Elder refuses to agree to the sale, the county could pursue public condemnation of the land.
"We're willing to do what we need to do to get the property," Davis said.
That threat riles Elder, who says the county has never seized land for parks. In February, Ruppersberger intervened to stop the condemnation of the 47-acre farm owned by Lawrence Gerst, which the county wanted for parks for the Honeygo community.
Elder, who has tried to sell the property for several years, took the land off the market last fall to develop his own plans, he said. Elder said he wants to use the land to help minorities, perhaps by building houses, a church or a camp for disadvantaged youths.
Meadowood Inc., the company that holds title to the land and is headed by Elder, bought the property in 1952 for $47,600 and has sought to change the zoning five times in the past 17 years. Among other uses, housing for the elderly has been proposed for the site.
Most recently, in 1996, Elder asked to have the zoning changed to business roadside, the most permissive commercial classification, which would allow development ranging from car dealerships to offices.
The relatively flat property -- which lies across from Greenspring Station on the southwest corner of Greenspring Valley and Falls roads -- has been farmed in the past, but the only crop growing on the land is yellow-flowered watercress. Once owned by Richard Caton, who founded Catonsville, and later by Alexander Brown of the Alex. Brown Inc. family, the land was the site of a grist mill on one corner of the tract for many years.
Community groups, which have fought for years against development of the site, welcomed the county's efforts to buy the land.
"It truly is a gateway to the Green Spring Valley," said Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, a land preservation group.
Pub Date: 4/18/98