Owner offers site for school

Taylor property would eliminate need for Baugher farm

March 23, 2000|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Chances are better than ever that James and Joan Baugher will be able to keep their 13-acre Ellicott City farm.

Dr. Bruce T. Taylor, part-owner of the largest undeveloped plot of land in Ellicott City, has announced that he is willing to work with Howard County officials to make room for an elementary school on his property, making it less likely that the county school board would condemn the Baugher farm.

The school board had threatened to condemn the farm to make way for the school, raising the ire of not only the Baughers but also countless county residents and farm activists around Maryland.

Taylor, whose land is near the Baugher farm, indicated his willingness to work with the county in a letter to County Executive James N. Robey that Robey received late Tuesday.

Taylor, medical director and chief executive officer of Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City, said yesterdaythat he will sell or donate the land to the county, but the financial details had not been worked out.

Taylor said it would cost him and his family money -- he would not say how much -- but they thought it was the right thing to do.

"We're here for the long term, and we need to do what's best for everyone in the community," he said.

Donald L. Reuwer, project manager for the Taylor developments, said the amount of money the Taylor family would lose is "not insignificant."

Sydney Cousin, associate superintendent of finance and operations for the school system, said Taylor's property is "the most promising of all that we've looked at." Cousin said it is hard to find a willing seller in the northeast section of Howard, where most land is developed.

"No one wants to sell anything anywhere," he said. "If there were something easy to identify, we would have done it a long time ago."

The property Taylor has offered is adjacent to an old county landfill, and Robey has suggested that Taylor's land be combined with the landfill property to produce a site for the school.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, said the school would not be built on the landfill but that athletic fields might be located on its buffers.

"It's the landfill, but it's not the landfill part of the landfill," Rutter said. "It's not building a school on a dump." He added that the county would make sure methane levels are under control before approving the property.

He said it's a good site for a school, especially because the county would not have to condemn anyone's land.

"The key is there's a willing seller," Rutter said. "I don't know of anything else they're looking at where there's a willing seller."

Joan Baugher, although pleased to hear about Taylor's offer, said she thought the county should have gone after Taylor's land in the first place.

"That's what we've been telling them all along," she said. "I know there's other plots around, that they don't have to take ours."

Taylor and his family own more than 400 undeveloped acres in Ellicott City and have plans to build hundreds of houses and apartments on the land.

Baugher supporters had pointed out numerous times that the county should consider the Taylor property for the school, instead of the Baughers', because the Taylor housing developments will contribute greatly to the need for a school.

Members of the Baugher family have farmed the land off New Cut Road for close to 80 years, and James Baugher, 69, has never lived or worked anywhere else. The Baughers want to retire on the farm and one day leave it to their 12 grandchildren.

Taylor said making room for an elementary school would require him to revise his development plans. He said he would have to reconfigure some single-family homes, which have been approved by the county, to townhouse lots.

Rutter said the new plans, which call for 21 townhouses instead of 21 single-family homes, would have to be approved by the Howard County Planning Board, but they would not require zoning changes.

Sandra H. French, chairman of the county school board, called Taylor's offer "a ray of sunshine." However, she said it is too soon to know whether the land is suitable for an elementary school.

Not everyone is pleased by Taylor's announcement.

Shelley Wygant, president of the neighborhood association nearest the Taylor property, said she thinks a school, combined with townhouses, would congest area roads and destroy the quality of the neighborhood.

"The school, that's a great thing, but switching townhomes for single-family homes is not what we want," Wygant said. "We're concerned about the roads, the impact on the neighborhood I'd rather have single-family homes."

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