Robey has plan for estate

County would buy Belmont, taking over its management from college


Howard County Executive James N. Robey is moving to take over Belmont, the historic Elkridge estate that has become a hotly contested issue between nearby residents and Howard Community College.

The move comes after months of contention over management by the college of the 68-acre, 18th-century property and increasing pressure from nearby residents and preservationists to remove the property from the college's control.

Robey spokeswoman Victoria Goodman said the executive will use money for parkland acquisition in his forthcoming capital budget to buy Belmont, and transfer control of $2 million planned for renovation of the barn and carriage house to county recreation and parks officials.

"It is incumbent upon us to find an acceptable way to both preserve the integrity of the estate and further incorporate this valuable resource into the fabric of our community," Robey said in a statement.

The executive will reveal his capital budget by April 1. The Planning Board will consider his proposals for Belmont on April 6.

The Belmont property is owned by the Howard Community College Education Foundation, which bought the estate and conference center for $5.2 million in 2004.

College President Mary Ellen Duncan said she welcomes Robey's move despite the college's 18-month attempt to manage the property.

"The college is very appreciative of the county's interest in Belmont," Duncan said in a statement. She vowed cooperation with the county and the community.

The moves seem designed to defuse the building tension over the estate's fate.

Alan Ullberg, a lawyer who represents the Elkridge-based Rockburn Land Trust, which includes neighbors of Belmont and others interested in preserving it, praised Robey's actions.

"Yes, I think this is a good move," he said, explaining that if state funds are used to help purchase the property from the community college foundation, state controls and protections will come with the money.

"Right now, the foundation has been able to engage in all kinds of activities which, in my opinion, are grossly violative of the covenants [on the property]," Ullberg said.

Others also praised the move.

"I think the county has proven itself to be a good steward of historic properties, so it's promising," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County.

County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who represents Elkridge, said he did not know details of Robey's plan and restrictions that might come with state money.

"It's really premature at this point to say anything except that I have a strong desire to keep Belmont preserved," he said.

Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat who, along with Merdon, is running for county executive, said he encouraged Robey to move on Belmont.

"I think it's the right decision. I think it's a positive step, but there's still a lot of questions I have about the future of Belmont," he said.

The foundation bought Belmont for use by the college, aided by a $1 million gift from builder Harry "Chip" Lundy, but a series of missteps alienated nearby residents and preservationists.

Early talk about possibly developing part of the property and building a new entrance road worried preservationists, who feared the historic value of the 1738 property might be destroyed.

Duncan later said none of the land would be developed for homes, and the college invited residents to participate in a long-range planning effort for the property and the college.

The college has plans to add bedrooms and to build a new kitchen in an outbuilding to enable removal of exhaust ducts on the roof of the mansion that the college installed.

Later, a privately funded inn and a conservatory would enable the estate to host larger events. A hospitality curriculum is also planned for HCC students at Belmont.

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