Carrolls go to court in land dispute

Family in trial over 270 acres near ancestral manor

Kin of Declaration signer

Case highlights pressure to develop main property

Western Howard

May 24, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

The famously private descendants of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll are scheduled to go to court today over a family land dispute involving a 270-acre parcel near Carroll's ancestral home, Doughoregan Manor.

In Howard County Circuit Court, Camilla Carroll and Philip D. Carroll, the children of the manor's current resident, Philip Carroll, are seeking to break off and develop a third of the parcel, which they own jointly with their father's two siblings and the siblings' children.

While the 270-acre parcel is not considered a part of the main 1,500-acre Doughoregan Manor estate, the dispute has offered a rare glimpse of the tensions at work in one of the state's oldest and most historically prominent families.

It also highlights the development pressures around the main manor property, which is increasingly crowded by subdivisions -many of them built on land once owned by the Carrolls.

Most notably, the case could provide some clues about Camilla and Philip D. Carroll's plans for the 860 acres they own that surround the 270-year-old manor house, which could be developed when a historic preservation easement expires in 2007.

The land around the manor is deemed highly valuable by developers, who covet its location in the heart of Howard County, and by preservationists, who note it is the only estate of a Declaration signer that belongs to descendants.

John Bernstein, director of the Maryland Environmental Trust, has called the estate the "single most important property or tract of land in the central part of Maryland." He and other preservationists are hoping to assemble a package of conservation incentives that could come close to equalling what Camilla and Philip D. Carroll could get from selling the land.

Camilla Carroll has said only that she and her brother hope to keep the manor house in family hands, and that they hope the land surrounding it "will remain manageable." Sources close to county government say Philip D. Carroll and his father have inquired in recent years about development options on the 860 acres.

Preservationists said this week that they were unsure how the case of the 270 acres could affect the fate of the land around the manor. Camilla and Philip D. Carroll's push to sell their 90 acres could indicate a general willingness to develop the rest of their land, preservationists said.

On the other hand, if Camilla and Philip D. Carroll are able to sell their 90 acres for a sizable sum, they could feel less financial pressure to sell the land around the manor.

"It would be marvelous if we could say, `You can develop this part if you put an easement on [the 860 acres],'" said Ann Jones of Ellicott City, who grew up on a farm west of the estate. "It would be marvelous if they could use this piece to [retain] the rest of it."

Camilla and Philip D. Carroll's lawyer, E. Alexander Adams, did not return calls, but his court filings make clear his clients' desire to develop the 90-acre part of the disputed parcel that is closest to the Gaither Hunt subdivision.

"The highest and best use of the property is a residential development," Adams stated in a filing.

The relatives are against such a partition, preferring to sell the whole 270-acre parcel as one piece and divide the proceeds in three, according to court filings. Under the partition sought by Philip Carroll's children, their relatives' portion of the 270 acres would include a branch of the Middle Patuxent River, making it less desirable to a developer.

"The plaintiffs' proposed partition of the property would result in the plaintiffs receiving property that is worth substantially more than their one-third interests," the relatives' lawyers stated in court filings.

The land dispute is not the first time Carroll relatives have faced off in court. Philip Carroll's siblings, who unlike Philip Carroll have placed their land nearest the manor in permanent protection, once took action against sludge disposal on Philip Carroll's part of the estate.

Richard E. Hagerty and Ronald S. Schimel, the lawyers representing the siblings and their children, did not return calls.

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