Foundation proposes research center for disputed land

Opponent of farm's sale urges open-space studies

January 09, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The Blandair Foundation has announced that it would establish a research center to study suburban and urban open space on the land it is fighting to keep from being sold.

The foundation was begun by an Ohio physics teacher and is named for the 300-acre farm off Route 175 in Columbia that was owned by Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith.

The physics teacher, Byron C. Hall, a longtime friend of Smith's, is suing her heirs and the county to prevent the farm's sale. He claims Smith, who died in February 1997 before signing a will, wanted the land to remain a farm. County officials plan to build a regional park that would include soccer and baseball fields.

The research center would provide advice to government agencies and citizens about open-space issues.

"As more farmland and other rural areas are converted into residential and commercial developments, citizens are feeling a need to live in harmony with nature, and often open space is provided in the development plans," Hall said in a statement. "However, many government departments, businesses and citizens do not know how to manage open space effectively to protect the environment and to encourage a variety of wildlife."

The foundation hopes to establish the research center on Smith's farm. It is unclear if the foundation will be able to do that -- a Howard County Circuit Court judge is weighing whether he should throw out Hall's lawsuit.

In the event Judge Raymond J. Kane decides the suit can go forward, a trial has been scheduled for November.

Hall's lawyers are arguing that Smith essentially made a contract with Hall and others to give them the land. Legal experts have said the suit has little chance of winning because Maryland law usually requires a signed will to allow the transfer of land.

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