Arundel in battle over farm use

County is violating sale contract, says the former owner

September 13, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The first horse and pony arrived on the Smith horse farm in 1974. And when Elizabeth Gleaves sold the 12-acre farm to Anne Arundel County in 1998, she intended that equines would always roam the grassy slopes of her late husband Andy Smith's homestead.

But recently, youth football teams have been practicing in a pasture there. An animal shelter has taken up residence in the farmhouse. And county officials want to build at least one athletic field on the site by next fall.

"It never crossed my mind that the county would do anything but use that land as an equestrian center and name it after my husband," Gleaves said. "What they're doing desecrates the memory of my husband."

The arrival of sports teams and the threat of bulldozers have also upset some Broadneck peninsula residents who expected the Broadneck Road farm, long a part of the community, to be used exclusively as a place where children and adults could learn to ride.

"I was always waiting to see when work would begin," said neighbor Diane Rey, whose curiosity landed her a position on a citizens committee that met for nearly a year to plan how best to reuse the property.

Rey said she is upset that the county is proceeding with a plan that includes a multipurpose athletic field, practice field, road and parking lots. She said the committee, which included many people who coach youth sports, decided on no more than one athletic field to provide more space for equestrian activities.

"If you ask a bunch of soccer coaches how to design an equestrian facility, you are going to get a soccer field," she said.

County officials said their plans for the farm have been well-received by the community and that Rey and others who are speaking against them are malcontents who didn't get what they wanted.

Work on the multipurpose athletic field, now in the design phase, could begin as soon as spring. The county also plans to advertise for a riding instructor who might lease an existing barn and pastures on 6 acres of the farm property at a reduced rate.

"The fact is, this is finished business," said Dennis Callahan, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks. "It is the government's responsibility to have a horse in every house? I don't think so."

Callahan defended a recent decision - which was not reviewed by the County Council - to allow an animal shelter to relocate on the property.

In June, the county signed a 35-month lease with owners of Noah's Ark allowing it to rent a farmhouse and 3 acres for $850 a month.

"It fits our needs," said Ted Kitzmiller, co-owner of the shelter, who scrambled for a new home after losing his lease in Pasadena. "We're in a corner [of the property]. We're out of the way."

Callahan said the Broadneck peninsula is in dire need of playing fields.

"No question about it, there is a shortage of athletic fields," he said, adding that former military property near the farm is too far from redevelopment to serve as an alternate site for game fields.

Callahan said Gleaves, who has remarried and moved to Clarksville, has never complained to him.

"This is just two or three people who are upset because they didn't get everything they wanted," he said, adding that the current plan for the site is a compromise that will best fit the needs of the community.

Gleaves said the Broadneck peninsula doesn't need another ball field or parking lot, and that the Smith farm is the last remaining piece of farmland there. "And there isn't another [public] equestrian center on the peninsula," she said.

Gleaves said the county signed a legal and binding contract with her to do what she asked. "Otherwise, I would have sold to developers," she said.

Letter to county executive

In a June 17 letter to County Executive Janet S. Owens, Gleaves made it clear that she never intended the farm to be turned into athletic fields and parking spaces.

"The contract of the sale was written with certain specific clauses, which should have ensured that the use of this property would be restricted to an equestrian center," said Gleaves, who sold the farm to the county for $500,000.

Gleaves said the county had assessed the land recently for $600,000, and she estimated that it would have been worth close to $1 million if she had chosen to subdivide it.

She said she cried when she drove to the farm recently and saw how "the county let the barns deteriorate and the fences were falling down."

"The county executive is clearly not honoring or adhering to the county government's commitment and intention when it purchased the land," said Gleaves' former attorney, Bruce C. Bereano, who handled the sale for her. "There wasn't even supposed to be one ball field. ... This is absolutely wrong, and the losers will be the residents of the Broadneck peninsula."

Owens disagreed with Bereano that the county is going back on its word to Gleaves, but intends to walk the property for the first time next week.

"I can always make things change, but I have to be convinced that it's the right thing for everyone," Owens said.

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