Nancy Smith's legacy

Howard County: Both sides could win something in their struggle over the 300-acre `jewel of Columbia.'

October 27, 1999

SOMETHING IS hauntingly romantic -- as well as quixotic -- about Byron C. Hall's effort to preserve what he says were the dying wishes of his friend, Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith. A confidante and soul mate of Ms. Smith, he may have known precisely what she wanted for the place she called "Blandair."

Ms. Smith wanted community gardening, a horse-retirement facility, walking and riding trails, a wildlife refuge and the like on her Columbia farm, Mr. Hall says. But her will was never signed, and Ms. Smith's heirs sold the 300 acres to Howard County for about $11 million in state funds.

Without a legally binding document, it seems, Mr. Hall and the foundation he formed to protect Ms. Smith's interests will fail.

Yet the spirit of her desires and his can be preserved at least in part. Some of the county's plans already are in keeping with their hopes. A section of the farm that lies north of Route 175 would be given over to trails, meadows and picnic areas. To be sure, another part would become fields for softball, soccer, basketball, tennis and other sports -- all of which need more space in a growing county.

The plans also called for pavilions, playgrounds, restrooms and a concession stand. Nearby residents fear light posts will sprout from the ground -- and that more traffic will result. Beyond those concerns, the Smith farm's rough and rustic exterior has undeniable charm in the midst of so much development.

Ms. Smith's gallant holdout, though, seems wholly unrealistic -- and not as fully environmental as it might appear. Humankind needs room to run and roam as much as do horses.

Wouldn't it be splendid, then, if everyone could win concessions in this struggle?

If the heirs are allowed to sell, perhaps county planners will find ways to accommodate more of the dreams of Nancy Smith and Byron Hall.

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