Decisions about Doughoregan Manor are linked to the county's larger preservation effort

Estate's fate part of the struggle


The fate of Doughoregan Manor, Howard County's least-seen but greatest historical treasure embodies the county's larger struggle to preserve what was while developing for the future.

As congestion builds and older residents grow more resentful about growth, the descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, are trying to raise money to preserve their family's estate.

Maryland and county officials are considering ways government might use land preservation or open-space funds to preserve the entire 892-acre parcel that includes the family's 20-room, two- story mansion and chapel, plus about 30 outbuildings in the pastoral setting they have occupied for nearly 300 years.

The land, part of about 2,000 acres the Carrolls still own of the original 17,000-acre estate, is protected from development by a 30-year historic easement set to expire in May 2007.

Historic preservationists consider Doughoregan Manor a priceless remnant of Colonial times; it is a completely preserved plantation still owned by the family that created it - and the only home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence still in family hands.

Siblings Camilla and Philip D. Carroll and their father, Philip Carroll, want to raise enough money to repair and maintain their holdings to preserve them in private ownership for generations to come.

County planning director Marsha S. McLaughlin has said the family needs up to $8 million over the next three years, and another $12 million beyond that, to create an endowment for continuing maintenance.

To do that, they have proposed a plan that features selling development rights on about 600 acres for up to $24 million, while developing about 350 homes on an eastern portion of about 200 acres closest to Centennial Lane. To proceed, the plan would require approval of zoning changes and extension of public water and sewer lines onto Carroll land.

The alternative, they have said through their attorney, Richard B. Talkin, is developing about 400 or more detached homes across much of the land, a move that would raise the needed money and more, but might destroy the ambience of the site.

Another 540 acres of Carroll land called South Manor, belonging to another group of six Carroll cousins and an older relative, are being subdivided into large parcels. They also hope to sell off most development rights, though there are plans to build a sprinkling of homes on several of the parcels.

The rest of the family land is in permanent preservation.

The contentious issue involves the 892 acres that contain the historic manor house.

The complications are numerous.

First, the Carrolls insist on strict privacy, rarely allowing outsiders to visit their ancestral abode. They persuaded Howard County in the 1980s to close a road (Manor Lane) that bisects the farm, which lies between Route 108 and Frederick Road. Although some of the homes on the property are rented to friends and acquaintances, others who visited or prayed at the chapel decades ago have said they are no longer invited by the Carrolls. The senior Philip Carroll still lives in the main house.

The family has refused to speak about their plans in public or to reporters, and they have insisted they are not seeking public funding for their plans. They can develop their land or sell development rights to other landowners or builders.

Even when state and county officials toured the property by bus recently, the group was not invited into the main house, though members did see the chapel, participants said.

Second, with public agitation rising over continued growth in Howard County, extending water and sewer lines to serve the family's plans could be a tough sell politically, especially in an election year.

Voters have petitioned a rezoning bill to referendum in November, a move fueled by resentment that Howard is becoming congested despite government efforts to slow growth.

With a new county executive and County Council due to take office in December, it is unclear whether politicians might be willing to go out on a limb for the Carrolls.

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