Preservationists join legal fight over Talbot County estate 18th-century plantation targeted for subdivision

October 22, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

A coalition of preservation groups has joined the legal battle over Myrtle Grove, the 18th-century plantation in Talbot County targeted for subdivision despite the fact it had been preserved under an easement.

The groups -- Preservation Maryland, the Land Trust Alliance, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Talbot County Historic Commission, the Talbot County Historical Trust and Historic Easton Inc. -- filed a motion in Talbot County Circuit Court yesterday in support of a July lawsuit by Maryland's attorney general that seeks to uphold the easement.

"There are few intact historic estates left," said John C. Murphy, a Baltimore attorney who represents the coalition. "The vast majority have been cut up into small tracts. Here, when you go on the property, it takes you back to Colonial times, before the Declaration of Independence."

A hearing on the coalition's motion has been set for Nov. 6.

Myrtle Grove has been preserved since 1975 when its owner, Margaret Donoho, placed the 160-acre farm under an easement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. After Donoho died in 1989, her family sold the estate for $3 million to Herbert Miller, a Washington developer who restored the mansion, at the confluence of the Miles River and Goldsborough Creek, outside Easton.

In 1994, Miller persuaded the national trust to allow him to create a small subdivision on part of the property. Shortly afterward, however, the trust broke its agreement on the subdivision, prompting a bitter lawsuit by Miller in D.C. Superior Court.

The trust has since joined forces with Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who is seeking to use the state's charitable trust doctrine to protect the easement. Under that law, Curran argues that the tax deduction given the original owner in exchange for the easement effectively sets up a perpetual charitable contribution to the state.

Joseph D. Tydings, an attorney hired by Miller and the former U.S. senator from Maryland, has filed motions to dismiss or postpone Curran's lawsuit pending the outcome of Miller's suit in D.C. Superior Court

"The attorney general is trying to intervene and derail the [D.C.] breach of contract case on grounds that the statute on conservation easements does not govern ," Tydings said yesterday.

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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