94 houses to be built at Cider Mill

Farm, a reminder of rural past, gives way to suburbia

`The last cows in Elkridge'

Business remains open while family begins development

January 23, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Cider Mill Farm, a 59-acre rural Elkridge enclave where generations of suburban children have milked a cow, watched chickens and ridden in a hay wagon, will soon sprout 94 expensive new homes instead.

The farm will remain open at least one more season as the family of the ill owner, Tom Owens, and Keelty builders oversee the development of the farm's most profitable crop yet.

"The last cows in Elkridge live on the corner of Landing and Ilchester roads. Everything is just falling like dominoes," said Sally Voris, a community activist and local historian.

"My son milked his first and only cow there. It's such a fun place. I will miss it tremendously," said Cass Anania, an Ellicott City resident whose two young children - ages 2 and 4 - have visited the farm repeatedly.

Owens bought the 85-year old apple farm in 1970 and slowly rebuilt a business making cider and adding other attractions on a small part of the land. Owens, 73, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 2000, and manager Cheryl Nodar has been operating it since then.

The farm "could be open for another year or two," said Jerry Katz, an attorney who represents the Owens family. "The cider mill is one small piece of a big piece of land."

He said the family has hired a land planner to maximize open space and walking paths. Family members were not available to speak about the deal yesterday.

In recent years, hundreds of expensive new houses have been replacing woods and fields along the rustic, winding roads between Elkridge and Ellicott City.

Kent T. Finkelsen, assistant supervisor of assessments in Howard County, said land for the Grovemont development next to Cider Mill sold for $78,200 an acre in 1999, and land in the area is now going for up to $100,000 an acre.

That would place the value of the Owens' farm between $4.6 million and $5.9 million, though the family is developing the land themselves rather than selling it outright.

"That's riskier, but they can get more money," Finkelsen said. Taxes are relatively low, however, since the land is assessed for agricultural use at $176,870.

Mark Buda, vice president of Keelty, a Timonium-based builder, said his firm reached agreement with the Owens family in late November to be development manager on the land, which will be sold after houses begin rising.

The old barn where cider is made is "a dilapidated building" and likely won't remain once development begins, Buda said. The Owens family wanted to develop the land partly because "they are concerned about the way the job will look," Buda said.

Buda said a pond on the property will be preserved, with as much open space as possible.

Smart Growth

As land with public water and sewers becomes scarce, Buda said his firm is always searching, often outside its Baltimore County base, to find property suitable for development.

County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who represents the area, said the state's Smart Growth program, which encourages development of land in settled areas and preservation of rural land, contributes to the development of places like Cider Mill Farm.

"The land is worth a lot more. It kind of drives folks to want to sell. It's a downside of Smart Growth," Merdon said. "It will be missed."

County Executive James N. Robey said the change would be a personal loss for him, but the land is too expensive for the county to buy and preserve as a farm.

"It's a real treasure. To me, it's clearly a loss," he said, noting that state planners are pressuring the county to restrict development further in the rural western county.

Orchard dates to 1916

The farm was created in 1916, when Frederick "Fritz" Kelly, the son of Dr. Howard Kelly, a founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital, planted 5,000 apple trees by placing a half-stick of dynamite to loosen the dirt for planting each tree - a common practice at the time.

When the trees matured, he founded a cider mill that attracted farmers from miles around, starting at 5 a.m. each day.

The farm closed in 1969, and Owens bought it the next year, slowly building a business from April through November. People came to buy cider and apple butter made over open fires in 50-gallon copper kettles, and to see the animals, harvest pumpkins in October and buy pies for Thanksgiving.

Nancy Watts, whose two children attend nearby Ilchester Elementary School, frequented the farm when her children were younger. She's worried about traffic congestion from numerous developments in the area.

"One would think that all those homes on a two-lane road would kind of be a nightmare," she said.

Others had thought that things would never change.

"We would go two or three times a season," said Doreen Klose, who lives less than a mile away with her three children, 6, 8, and 10.

"For some reason, I thought that would be a landmark" that would always be there, she said.

Sun staff writer Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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