Deal ends tense talks over land

Fulton: A Howard County couple agrees to sell their property to the builder of a huge new development.

May 05, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

James and Maria Oliver have found a new home - and so have some of their collection of carefully nurtured trees.

After months of tense talks, the Howard County couple have finally agreed on terms for selling their 3-acre, 35-year-old homestead, which will become the northern entrance to a huge mixed-use development in Fulton called Maple Lawn Farms.

But instead of leaving behind the dozens of specialty trees - mature varieties of spruce, beech, redwoods and others - to be cut down or bulldozed, many will be saved for sale to wealthy buyers.

Seven large trees have been sold, and three were trucked to New York late last month, where they were replanted to beautify a $40 million estate under construction on Long Island, according to George Bridge, the Montgomery County landscape designer who moved them.

"We sell them to people who want instant gratification," Bridge said, explaining that though Long Island has plenty of native trees, the immediate area around a new home is often denuded.

"I'm basically like an antique dealer who deals in old, mature trees," he said, noting that a mature 30-foot-tall tree plus the root ball weighs about 18,000 pounds.

Bridge has a 20-acre farm in Laytonsville where he keeps trees and shrubs that he scouts out and buys. He resells them to people who want mature vegetation.

Bridge said he will buy all of the Olivers' trees and shrubs he can get and will move others to the couple's new home, to be built this year on a 4-acre, wooded lot in Oella, in Baltimore County.

Developer Stuart J. Greenebaum plans to build a four-lane boulevard through the center of the Olivers' once-secluded property near the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Maple Lawn Farms is to have 1,116 homes and 1.2 million square feet of office and commercial space built over the next decade, and the county had sought to condemn the Olivers' home for the vital road extension when they initially refused to sell.

Mixed feelings

James Oliver, 63, a government research chemist who studies insect communication, said he has mixed feelings about the transaction but is looking forward to signing the contract with Greenebaum and getting his new house under way.

Oliver refused to say how much money he agreed to take, but he has until June 2005 to move, and he is getting money to defer relocation costs.

Saving many of the trees that he cared for over the years helps, too. "If they're going to be bulldozed, it's worth something to see them treated with a little bit of respect," he said, adding that many of his trees will remain in what is planned to be open space just east of the new Sanner Road extension across Johns Hopkins Road.

Last spring, the Olivers rejected Greenebaum's offer of $385,000 for the land and house, arguing that was far too little to allow them to relocate to a similar property. The County Council was asked to condemn the land in July last year, but it tabled the bill.

Merdon's aid

The Olivers then sought to keep and rezone 1 acre on either side of the proposed road extension, so they, too, could profit as developers, but the County Council rejected that. Because the land was designated either for roadbed or open space, appraisers said the $385,000 price was fair, despite skyrocketing land prices in Howard.

Then Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, got involved and worked to mediate the dispute, an effort that took nine months.

"It was difficult. The two sides were not talking anymore," Merdon said. "I felt very badly for the Olivers, at the same time knowing what the larger goal was for the development."

The couple is planning a new French provincial-style home that will cost them substantially more than the proceeds from the sale of their property, Oliver said.

For his part, Greenebaum said he, too, is satisfied.

"I'm happy that it's been equitably resolved. That's always your goal," Greenebaum said. "Oliver's not a bad guy. He's just caught in the middle, as am I."

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