Growth debate sours neighbors' relationships

Planned development divides rural area

August 29, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Gene, Charles and Judy Iager live in the same Fulton community that people like Harry Brodie, Peter Oswald, John Adolphsen and hundreds of others call home. They're neighbors, and some of them see each other at church on Sundays. These days, however, they're not very neighborly.

This week a public trial of sorts will begin for the planned development of hundreds of acres of Iager family farmland into nearly 1,200 homes -- a project that would not only change the neighborhood, it would dwarf it.

On Wednesday night, the Howard County Council will begin holding weeks of public hearings, and many neighbors plan to voice their opposition to the proposal. Developer Stewart J. Greenebaum may be in charge of the project, but in Fulton, the Iagers are closely identified with it. Relations with the family, turkey farmers who have been a part of the community for generations, are tense.

That much was clear one night last week, when Gene Iager and his sister-in-law, Judy Iager, showed up at a meeting of the Greater Beaufort Park Community Association, which wants to derail the Iager farm plan.

"We have spies in our midst," proclaimed John Breitenberg, an attorney who lives nearby and is representing the neighborhood in the fight against the project. "It's appalling to me as an individual that they have such a lack of respect for us."

The Iagers insist they have no interest in spying on their neighbors' plans, that they also are neighbors who are as much concerned about the community as anyone else.

"I do respect each and every one of you in the audience," Judy Iager, 55, said at the meeting at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, the same house of worship where she and her husband, Charles, sometimes see their neighbors on Sundays. "We just came to the meeting, my brother-in-law and I, because we're interested, because we live across the road, and because this is our church."

Family history

The Iagers' historically dominant presence in this small community off Route 216 only complicates things. As Gene Iager points out in defending his decision to attend the meeting, the very church where the meeting was held is part of that family history.

"My grandparents gave the land for the church, and my father was the president of that church for 18 years, and we gave not only financially but our muscle helping to build that church," said Iager, 53.

The Iagers were asked to leave the meeting last Wednesday night. When they wouldn't, they were invited, through Breitenberg's gritted teeth, to say a brief word and then leave.

The Iagers asked that people read a pamphlet describing the planned "Maple Lawn Farms" project -- literature Breitenberg called "propaganda" -- and urged anyone with concerns to speak with them.

Gene Iager said they wouldn't leave, that the church was a public space, that the meeting was public, and that he had a right to be there.

"We do have attachments to this area," he said. "We do care about our property, and that's why we're here this evening."

Moments later, Breitenberg spoke up: "You are not welcome here. You've made your point. Now please leave."

Later, a vote was taken: Only one of the 50 people present said the Iagers should stay.

The Iagers didn't leave. "They seem to be immune to ill will," said Adolphsen, a retired engineer.

Later, Breitenberg recounted a story of another run-in he says he had with Gene Iager, on the day before Thanksgiving last year.

The attorney said he went to get his holiday turkey at the Iager farm, as he had in years before, and was "accosted" by Gene Iager in front of a line of customers.

"He said that if I didn't like his project, then I shouldn't like his turkeys and that I should leave," Breitenberg said. He said Iager then told him that no one had the right to tell his family what to do with their land. "The whole experience ruined my holiday."

Breitenberg, who is representing the association for no fee, says the un-neighborly confrontation "reinvigorated" him in his work on the case. Gene Iager denies the confrontation happened that way, but declined to give his version of the story, other than to note that Breitenberg wound up buying the turkey.

Independence an issue

But Breitenberg certainly painted an accurate picture of Iager's impassioned sentiments about the property. Iager believes he and his family have earned the right to do what they want with their land.

"This land should have been developed years ago. We could have sold this farm years ago and not put up with the hassle and all the grief and all the disenchantment and all the unhappiness, and we'd be gone," he said. "[But] we want to do it right, and I'm not going to let a handful of people tell me what to do."

Emotions run high because for the Iagers and for many in the neighborhood, the stakes seem so high.

The development of nearly 1,200 homes on 508 acres, most of which is Iager farmland, would reap riches for the turkey farming family. Many neighbors worry the suburban-style project would drastically alter what was once a rural landscape, bringing traffic jams, crowded schools and a threat to property values.

The Howard County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, has the power to approve, reject or modify the project.

Gene Iager calls the neighbors' concerns the same old "not-in-my-backyard" tale of development, one that is familiar to his family.

"A lot of these people are the very ones who bought a lot from my father or bought a house from my father when he was developing," he said. "They were eager to buy that lot and come here, but the people who were here before them said, `No, we don't want you here.' "

Pub Date: 8/29/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.