The tug of history is clashing with the pressures of modern times as Howard County officials struggle with the fate of 892 acres of Doughoregan Manor -- the nearly three-centuries-old Carroll estate that becomes eligible for development next year.
Marsha S. McLaughlin, Howard's planning director, said the descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, need up to $8 million within three years for repairs to the aging manor house and about 30 other historic buildings, and $12 million more to create an endowment for repairs.
FOR THE RECORD - In an article published Sunday in the Howard County edition of The Sun about Doughoregan Manor, a comment by Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director, was not attributed to her. She said: "They desperately want to work out a solution to avoid selling more land." The Sun regrets the error.
They also hope to raise millions more to allow the family to retain ownership for decades -- and to escape heavy inheritance taxes -- by selling preservation rights to about 600 acres and bringing in water and sewer lines to help develop the eastern portion of the property. The land is under a 30-year state historic preservation easement, but that is due to expire in May next year.
Since last summer, the Carroll family has been talking quietly with county officials about the family's proposal to preserve the 600 acres, while allowing development of 350 homes on the 200-plus acres closest to Centennial Lane. Under current zoning, the Carrolls have the right to develop the land for 450 detached homes spread across the estate.
More details emerged Friday, when McLaughlin met with 75 preservationists, community activists and politicians at the invitation of Preservation Howard County, whose members are worried about suburban sprawl swallowing the county's best-known, if least-visited, historic site.
Even the meeting place evoked the tension -- the open spaces of the Howard County Conservancy in western Ellicott City just across Old Frederick Road from long rows of townhouses in the giant Waverly Woods development.
McLaughlin said Howard County is eager to help find a plan that preservationists and the public can support while allowing repairs and renovation of the historic buildings.
Land prices are skyrocketing in Howard, so delays mean higher costs. She wants to recruit members of the local preservation community to help craft and then back a plan, she told Preservation Howard County members.
Doughoregan Manor is a unique national treasure, said Richard Brand of the Maryland Historical Trust. But if expensive new homes begin sprouting on $400,000 building lots all around it, the loss will be incalculable, preservationists argue.
Reclusive Philip and Camilla Carroll, the brother and sister who own the estate with their father, won't allow public access to what McLaughlin called "a complete plantation" that sits on 2,000 acres of what was once a 17,000-acre Colonial barony.
McLaughlin said the family has become much less open because of suburbia's intrusions over the years, including vandals and off-road motorists. They also are bothered by the lights and amplified sounds of nearby Kiwanis Wallis Park, she said.
That drew some sharp comments from people in the crowd.
"What makes them so special?" said Carolyn Hickerson, 67, who said she used to go to Doughoregan to pray in the family's Catholic chapel, which is attached to the house. "I wouldn't give 2 red cents to rub together if we can't go down that lane. They won't let us be a part of it."
The chapel now is off-limits to the public.
If she were to drive down Manor Lane now, Hickerson said, she would be arrested by the police for trespassing. The lane was closed as a public road two decades ago at the Carrolls' request.
"What are they going to give us?" Hickerson asked. "We have this jewel, but we can't view it."
Marc Norman, who has crusaded against a major planned expansion at nearby Turf Valley, questioned why the Carrolls or anyone representing them didn't attend the meeting.
"They send you to do their bidding," he said to McLaughlin, who said she hopes the family will attend the next meeting, which is unscheduled.
Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County, said county officials were invited by her group, not by the Carrolls, in an attempt to try to reach some understanding of the situation and begin crafting a solution.
"I want to see the Carrolls rewarded for 300 years of stewardship" in preserving their ancestor's estate, she said.
McLaughlin ran through options under current zoning laws, from total preservation to total development. Joan Becker, a real estate lawyer, suggested creating a new zoning category just for Doughoregan. Other options are a combined county-state purchase of development rights or land for use as a school or park site.
Nick Williams, director of the Maryland Environmental Trust, said there is likely to be about $154 million in state and local open space money available for next year, and Gary Arthur, the county recreation director, said some of that money could help buy land at Doughoregan. But McLaughlin noted that state open-space money requires that land to be available to the public, which the Carrolls don't want.
Still, Cochran pointed out that having passive open space along a stream bank would still likely be better for the Carrolls than seeing a row of townhouses on their land.
"They desperately want to work out a solution to avoid selling more land," she said, adding that she would like to see something worked out within the next year, though a new Howard county executive and County Council will take office in December. All the current executive candidates and several people running for the council were in the audience.
Problems exist with every option, McLaughlin said, but the Carrolls must do something. In 1991, they had to sell land to pay a $10 million federal inheritance tax when their grandmother died. At the same time, they don't want to see new houses all around the manor house, which McLaughlin said is where the most buildable land is.