Farm plans stay firm

Ball fields to go on Broadneck land, executive insists

Seller of parcel upset

Former owner says county promised 12-acre horse center

September 26, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Dismissing complaints that she is reneging on a promise to use a farm on the Broadneck peninsula exclusively as an equestrian center, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday that she won't back away from plans for athletic fields at the site.

Owens said she visited the 12-acre Smith farm last week, but saw nothing to make her drop plans for a multipurpose athletic field, practice field, road and parking lots there.

"After seeing the site firsthand, I believe that both athletic fields and an equestrian center can coexist," she said in a statement yesterday.

Owens noted an overwhelming need for athletic fields in the Broadneck area in explaining her decision. She said plans for the farm, which abuts an existing county park, are consistent with what a committee of residents said it wanted.

Elizabeth Gleaves, who sold the farm to the county for $500,000 in 1998, said yesterday that she was upset by Owens' decision. Gleaves, who lives in Clarksville, has said that she would not have sold the farm to the county if she knew officials would put ball fields on it.

"That's not what was promised me," she said. "This was my dream, my contribution to my community. I guess I should have just sold it for high-rise apartments."

Gleaves said she plans to press her complaint against the county in a lawsuit.

"I guess it will be up to a judge to decide if [Owens] can change a contract or not," said Gleaves. Her first husband, Andy Smith, died in 1994.

George Helwig of Severna Park, a former executive director of the U.S. Pony Club, has said that the county's plans to establish a 6-acre equestrian center at the site is unworkable because it would be large enough for only six horses. A riding school must have at least 10 horses to be successful, he said.

A farm house that was to be reserved for a stable manager has new tenants. In June, the county signed a 35-month lease with the owners of Noah's Ark animal shelter, allowing it to rent the house and 3 acres of farmland for $850 a month. The shelter had lost its lease on a house in Pasadena and needed a new place to settle.

Former County Executive John G. Gary, who signed the contract with Gleaves, said that Owens should have stuck with the original plans for the property.

"While she has a right to set her own programs, she really does have an obligation to honor the master plans and commitments of previous administrations," he said.

A survey five years ago by the Department of Recreation and Parks indicated a need for more athletic fields in the Broadneck peninsula, said Owens spokesman Matt Diehl, adding that residential growth has made the shortage more acute.

Nevertheless, about 95 percent of the approximately 600 Broadneck residents who responded to a recent questionnaire were in favor of an equestrian site in the area.

"When I go out into the community to talk to people, the most often heard response I get is, `Gee, I thought it was supposed to be an equestrian center,'" said Diane Rey, a Broadneck peninsula resident who leads Citizens for the Andy Smith Equestrian Center.

"The agreement was well-publicized," she said, "and now we find out how the plan has changed."

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