Couple decide to sell home

Land to be used for road into Maple Lawn Farms

`A constant source of stress'

Owners seek to avoid condemnation by court

Howard County

October 07, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With giant yellow earthmovers closing in around James Oliver's carefully tended 3-acre Howard County homestead, he and his wife have decided to sell their home of 35 years to make way for the Maple Lawn Farms mixed-use project, rather than risk court condemnation, Oliver said yesterday.

"I guess you could say that we essentially gave up the fight in order to get on with our lives," Oliver said, although he hasn't heard whether his oral agreement to terms is acceptable to the county or developer Stuart J. Greenebaum.

The decision means that Oliver and his wife, Maria, will leave the collection of unusual, mature trees they have nurtured over the decades. Their home used to be in a secluded, quiet corner of southern Howard County, across Johns Hopkins Road from the Applied Physics Laboratory.

Now their land is to become a gateway to Howard's increasingly urban future.

The county wants to build a four-lane extension of Sanner Road through the middle of the Olivers' land to provide a northern entrance to the Maple Lawn Farms development, which will include 1,116 homes and 1.2 million square feet of office and commercial space.

Oliver, 63, a research chemist for the Department of Agriculture, had refused to sell the property for Greenebaum's offer of $382,000, and the County Council was asked in July to authorize condemnation.

The Olivers thought Greenebaum's offer was too low given that empty lots in Howard County can sell for as much as $100,000 an acre. James Oliver said he could buy a new house but could never replicate the secluded setting for the price offered.

He proposed that the county or Greenebaum buy the central acre of his land for the road and allow him to keep and rezone the remaining 2 acres, which plans call for leaving as open space. He proposed commercial or apartment zoning for those leftover acres so that he could sell them and boost the price.

James M. Irvin, the county public works director, told the County Council that Howard needs all 3 acres.

Reluctant council members tabled the condemnation resolution July 30, however, to allow another chance for a negotiated settlement.

"We never want to go as far as condemning a property if we can avoid it," said council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat. "It just takes so much out of everyone involved."

Oliver said yesterday that the offer he agreed to includes a slightly higher purchase price, help with moving and relocation costs, access to the couple's plants and trees and permission to stay in the house for up to 18 months while the couple search for a new home.

In addition, Oliver said, he wants the right to additional compensation if his excess land on both sides of the road is not used for open space, as planned.

Neither Greenebaum nor Richard Talkin, his attorney, was available to comment yesterday.

One of the toughest parts about leaving the old farmhouse, Oliver said, is leaving the huge Yezo spruce, the bonsai garden, a weeping European beech tree and a soaring Chinese redwood, along with all the other trees he has planted and cared for over the years.

He said he realizes that a court condemnation case can take up to two years if he continues to fight, that there is no guarantee of success and that it would mean added daily pressure.

"I want it to be over with. It's a constant source of stress," he said. "I don't concentrate as well. We have to get on with our lives."

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