Howard Week

January 27, 2002

Homeowners selling `yards' as property values, taxes rise

In long-settled sections of eastern Howard County, expensive new homes are filling spare spaces as soaring real estate prices - with taxes to match - are pressuring suburbanites to sell any extra acres that surround their older homes.

"People are literally selling their back yards to put a house in," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County.

Some people are willingly cashing in, but others say they are being forced to sell their excess land to developers because they can't afford sharply higher taxes.

It's a phenomenon particular to Howard County, where new-home prices higher than $300,000 are routine, giving builders the incentive to develop small, difficult parcels passed over before.

Managed hunt kills fewer deer than last year's

Howard County's deer population is becoming smarter, sparser or more loath to move - or all three, county officials and hunters say.

Far fewer animals were killed in this season's managed hunt, the fourth culling of deer in five years to reduce their population in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in Columbia and at David W. Force Park, near Turf Valley.

A hunter spotted a group of 26 deer moving through the woods during the hunt's final days the week of Jan. 14-18, but the final numbers were significantly lower than last year's, said Philip C. Norman, deer project manager for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. This year's take was 164, down from 256 deer killed last year at the two hunt sites.

94 houses to be built at Cider Mill Farm

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

Owens bought the 85-year old apple farm in 1970 and slowly rebuilt a business making cider. He also added 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.

Council to define duties of Board of Appeals post

A set of rules to define the job of Howard County's long-awaited Board of Appeals hearing examiner will be introduced as legislation to the County Council next month, although the examiner isn't likely to be hired and begin work until later this year.

The part-time hearing examiner is expected to become a key player in the effort to make Howard's land-use regulations more understandable and fair for residents and developers.

County voters approved the post in November 2000 to speed and simplify cases about conditional uses and administrative appeals.

High levels of toxic metals found in soil around school

Despite school system assurances that the soil around Worthington Elementary School is safe, tests taken Dec. 19 show relatively high levels of toxic metals in the ground around the Ellicott City school, which was built 25 years ago atop a landfill.

Parents and Howard County school officials are waiting for analysis of the test results to determine whether levels are high enough to cause concern.

Sydney L. Cousin, the school system's chief operating officer, said an analysis should be available from the Department of Public Works within 10 days. At this time, Cousin said, system officials aren't particularly alarmed. High levels "don't mean anything unless we know what that really means," he said.

Erosion imperils Ellicott City's Main Street

Pieces of Ellicott City's historic Main Street are in danger of collapsing because of erosion from a stream that runs under and around the buildings that compose the popular Howard County tourist attraction. "The symptoms [of a collapse] are all there," said Jim Irvin, the county's director of public works. "It's a question of where and to what degree."

Irvin said he cannot predict how long the structures will remain standing without repair. Some might give way during the next large flood or storm, he said.

Any collapse could block the stream and lead to damage from flooding that would affect much of the lower end of the steeply winding street, which attracts nearly 18,000 visitors each year.

As worrisome as the erosion is the question of who will fix it. Irvin estimates that it would cost at least $750,000 to fix retaining walls and the foundations of several buildings that have deteriorated during years of wear caused by the flow of water and floods through the narrow-channeled stream, called the Hudson-Tiber Channel.

Board of Education sets boundaries for high school

The Board of Education established new boundary lines for Howard County high schools Thursday night, setting the stage for the opening of Reservoir High School in the fall and moving thousands of students to new schools.

The new boundaries mirror in many ways suggestions in the "red" plan, which was created by the citizen-led Boundary Lines Advisory Committee and recommended to the board by David C. Drown, coordinator of geographic systems.

Some adjustments were made to the red plan, taken largely from suggestions by Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, including a decision to open Reservoir with only freshmen and sophomores.

The board also approved a much-contested Marriottsville site as the home of Howard County's 12th high school.

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