Neighbors fight plans for former plantation

Division: Residents of Cape St. John, near Annapolis, oppose development near a historic mansion, saying the area doesn't need more homes.

November 22, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

On a slight slope overlooking Anne Arundel County's picturesque South River perches a stately old mansion that once was surrounded by more than 800 acres of tobacco.

Today, Olde Bloomfield, as the former plantation is known, sits atop a mere 7 acres outside Annapolis.

Its owner plans to reduce the size of the historic estate further, sparking an outcry from residents of the surrounding Cape St. John community.

The community's ire stems from more than just the thought of dividing a beautiful property to build homes that would block a clear view of the brick mansion, built in 1803, from the road.

Residents of Cape St. John -- a bucolic neighborhood with curvy, tree-lined roads that wend past 217 homes -- also are upset with other developments that have sprung up in the area in recent years. They say Riva Road has become clogged with traffic.

In Olde Bloomfield's subdivision plans, residents see a development that would push their community one step closer to suburbia and further away from life in a rustic setting.

"We just feel like we're being inundated with development," said Deborah Hertel, a member of the Cape St. John Civic Association. "And the county is not being sensitive to people who chose Anne Arundel, who chose this area because it still has a rural feel in some parts. I moved here from Montgomery County, where they seemed to be trying to build on every single piece of land, and they seem to be doing that here."

Harvey Blonder, an Annapolis businessman who owns Olde Bloomfield, has been trying to subdivide the property since 1993. Blonder could not be reached for comment, but John Morris, county land-use spokesman, said planners are reviewing Olde Bloomfield plans and considering Blonder's application for a waiver on road adequacy requirements that ensure surrounding streets can support more homes and traffic.

Donna Ware, county historic sites planner, said Blonder has had to scale back his plan. He originally applied to build nine houses but was required to reduce the number to seven to preserve a 4-acre setting for the mansion and about six graves that date from the 19th century.

County subdivision code protects the two-story mansion because it is on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, and is deemed historically significant.

"With historic properties, we have to do what we can to make sure there's some semblance of a setting around them," she said.

Site preserves history

The Olde Bloomfield plantation dates from the late 18th century, Ware said. Annapolis merchant Allen Quynn purchased the then-100-acre Bloomfield property -- known as Brampton at the time -- and several other properties where tobacco was grown.

He combined the properties, renamed the parcel Bloomfield and began building a weekend riverfront home on the plantation, but died before it was completed.

Ware said the property is especially significant historically because, before the first South River Bridge was built in the 1840s, Quynn -- and the property owner before him -- operated a ferry that took farmers, merchants and travelers across the river to southern Anne Arundel County and back.

The graves on the property are those of members of the Tucker family, which owned the property in the 1840s, Ware said.

The mansion also is valuable because it is a "classy example of a Federal period house," she said, referring to an architectural style of the 1820s and 1830s.

Ware said she reviewed Blonder's application and recommended approval of his plan only if it were scaled down and the county had a say in the architecture and design of the new homes.

"It's basically an example of being a victim of the zoning classification," she lamented. "Unfortunately, it's zoned to allow further subdivision of the parcel."

Worries of crowding

Cape St. John residents argue that Blonder's waiver should not be granted because Riva Road -- the thoroughfare that carries cars north to south from Parole through Edgewater to Davidsonville -- is clogged and traffic accidents are on the rise.

County police records show that 302 accidents occurred along Riva Road last year. The number is expected to increase to 369 this year.

`Road can't handle it'

"The road can't handle it," said Patricia Norris, the community association president. "Right now, traffic is really horrible. Sometimes it takes three or four minutes just to make a left turn" from Cape St. John Road onto Riva Road.

"We love the neighborhood and we love the convenience of being close to Annapolis and Washington," Hertel said. "But it's becoming less and less convenient."

Morris said in reviewing Blonder's request, county planners will assess whether the road improvements "seem out of proportion to the size of the subdivision."

Group studying Riva Road

Barbara Samorajczyk, the county councilwoman who represents the area, said she is studying developments along Riva Road in recent years and has started discussing county law on road adequacy requirements with representatives from the county attorney's office and the public works and planning and code enforcement departments.

"We've established a working group to ensure that the law is being applied in the right way," said Samorajczyk, a Democrat. "These are not simple issues, and I sometimes have questions as to what was done and why it was done.

"We have to understand that we have an obligation to provide quality of life," she added.

"When you can't get down the road to take your children to school without sitting in traffic for hours, you've lost your quality of life."

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