HCC prepares to take over 82-acre estate

College expected to buy Elkridge meeting center

Belmont dates to 18th century

Neighbors fear that buyer will develop the property

October 24, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Howard Community College officials expect to close a deal to take over the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge before Thanksgiving.

The Howard Community College Educational Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that raises money for the college, recently decided to buy the 18th- century estate with approval from the college's board of directors.

The estate includes a manor house, guest houses, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and trails and gardens that are used for conferences, weddings and retreats.

Neighbors say they would be happy to see HCC keep the conference center open. But they want reassurances that the 82-acre property, which is surrounded by state park land, will be protected.

"Our concern is that whoever buys it -- and the community college would be ideal -- might then decide a few years from now to do major development in the state park," said neighbor Burnet Chalmers.

The manor house, a barn and about 30 acres are protected by easements held by the Maryland Historic Trust, said Belmont's general manager, Anne Johnson. Another 40 acres and a 13-acre outparcel could be subdivided.

According to HCC President Mary Ellen Duncan, the college plans to continue operating the facility under the supervision of college staff.

"The core mission of Belmont is not going to change," Duncan said.

Revenue will support college scholarships and programs.

Johnson said that in the 10 years she has been managing the center, it has been "very successful."

"The property is profitable," she said.

School leaders would like to offer continuing-education classes at the location and start using the facilities next year to train students in the school's new hospitality management program.

Duncan said classes "will add a new dimension" that should make the business stronger.

Final details are being discussed by the foundation and the American Chemical Society, which bought the property in 1983. The property was put up for sale this summer with an asking price of $4.3 million.

The foundation is not using any of the college's funds -- including state and county money -- for the purchase, Duncan said.

Last week, the County Board of License Commissioners approved the transfer of Belmont's liquor license to the foundation.

The board meeting was an opportunity for the property's neighbors to talk about their concerns.

Many homeowners along Belmont Woods Road have put their land in environmental easements, said Dale Schumacher, who lives in a historic home on the one-lane road.

Neighbors say they have no specific reason to believe the foundation will develop the land. But they said they feel as though they have been left in the dark about HCC's plans, particularly what will happen if the conference center does not prove to be as profitable as the college would like.

Belmont's location at the end of the single-lane road has also raised questions about the effect of having students coming and going to classes.

Duncan said the college is talking to the county about building a new entrance road connected to Landing Road.

"A road is key to having a future out there," Duncan said. The current arrangement "is really a nuisance to the neighbors."

But a new road could be problematic if it makes future development more likely, Chalmers said.

"We would rather live with the traffic on our road and have Belmont not get developed than have a road out the back that paves the way for development," he said.

Duncan said she will be happy to talk with neighbors after the sale is completed.

Schumacher said Belmont neighbors who have lived in their homes for 20, 30 and even 50 years "are here for the duration, and we want to work hard with HCC so the duration is another 50 years."

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