Group sues to halt sale of Smith farm

July 02, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

Though the chances of winning may be slim, a private foundation has filed a lawsuit to halt the sale of the 300-acre Smith farm, the last swath of rural land in Columbia.

The suit, filed Monday in Howard Circuit Court, states that Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith, an eccentric who died in 1997, wanted to "preserve her land" forever and had no intention to sell the property to private developers or Howard County.

County officials, who have been negotiating with Smith's heirs to buy the farm, have expressed interest in creating an athletic complex there. Those officials said the lawsuit brought by the Elizabeth C. Smith Foundation will likely be thrown out because there is no clear indication of Smith's intentions.

"I don't know that it has any legal standing," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "To the best of my knowledge Miss Smith never signed a will. We're in negotiations, and hopefully this won't upset it."

Byron C. Hall Jr., a board member of the foundation, said in a statement that Smith died before putting her wishes in writing.

But "the promise that Miss Smith made to create a trust to preserve the farm is well documented."

In an interview, Hall said he was trying to stop development of the land and was also taking a "wait and see" attitude.

Hall is a physics professor from Ohio who corresponded with Smith in the 1970s.

Smith, who never married and had no children, died without a will, leaving the fate of her land unclear.

The reclusive woman vehemently fought developers, including Columbia's developer, the Rouse Co., preservationists and politicians who tried to purchase her land.

In the mid-1970s, when the state condemned 14 acres of her property for the four-lane Route 175, she refused to cash a $148,000 state check.

For months, Ecker has been negotiating with Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing the heirs.

According to the 1939 will of Smith's father, Henry E. Smith, the land is to revert to his closest surviving relatives, if his daughter and wife made no provisions for it. Nancy Smith's mother, Lillian, who died in 1979, left the land in the hands of her daughter.

A Howard County Circuit Court has named two cousins as heirs.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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