Out of a bitter feud, a 300-acre park is born

Visions

November 20, 2005

It's not very often that a 300-acre park is created in the middle of an intensely developed suburban area, but that's what's starting to happen near the urban center of Columbia in Howard County.

Just how that is coming to be is a tangled story.

Blandair Park will be built on a farm that had been owned by Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith, an eccentric woman who hated development and spurned repeated efforts by the Rouse Co. to purchase the property in the early stages of Columbia's development.

The division of Smith's land by Route 175 in the early 1970s embittered her, increasing her distrust of commercial developers and government. She blamed Rouse, increasing her fear of outsiders' intentions toward her and the farm where she had lived since her father bought the property in 1937.

In the end, Columbia was developed around her.

After Smith's death at 82 in early 1997 without a signed will, county and state officials bought the farm from Smith's estate. But then county officials had to wage a three-year court battle with Byron C. Hall Jr., a friend of Smith's who claimed she was about to sign legal papers to create a trust to preserve her land when she died.

After that fight, there has been a long community debate over what kind of park Blandair should become.

Now, a preliminary plan has been agreed. It calls for about 80 acres of athletic fields and picnic areas, mostly south of Route 175, and restoration of the badly deteriorated 1850s manor house complex. Most land north of the road would remain a natural area.

Howard County is preparing to spend $1 million - half appropriated by the Maryland General Assembly - to restore the Blandair Mansion. The county has contracted with the National Park Service's historic preservation and training center to provide architectural and construction guidance for the restoration.

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