Speakout!

April 02, 2006

THE ISSUE: -- The county executive announced a plan recently to purchase the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge from the Howard Community College Educational Foundation. The county likely will lease the property -- which includes a historic manor house and dozens of acres of fields and woods -- to the college for continued use as a conference center and for college activities, such as classes in hospitality management. Do you think the county should buy the property? What activities should be allowed or prohibited there?

Purchase plan is a positive step

The county executive's plan to purchase the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge from the Howard Community College Educational Foundation is a very positive development.

It seems to offer a number of advantages: the county's decision-making process is open for public interaction, the county would honor the historic easements and covenants and the college would still be able to offer the classes and related activities. As a county property, more county residents and businesses may be able to use the amenities of the property and benefit from its rich history and exquisite landscape.

Gloria Berthold

Elkridge

Easement restricts activities at Belmont

What activities should be allowed or prohibited at Belmont?

As a donor of a preservation easement to the Rockburn Land Trust, I know that this question needs to be considered in the context of the restrictive easement on Belmont's historical buildings and the surrounding 68 acres.

The easement runs with the buildings and land in perpetuity and was designed to preserve both the 1738 Colonial Georgian mansion and the land that David Bruce gave [as] a gift to the nation.

In 1984, over 250 acres of that land was incorporated into the surrounding state park. For the past 40 years Belmont has been operated as a retreat/confer- ence center and has met operating costs, but apparently not all maintenance costs.

According to the easement, only activities that enable Belmont, as Belmont is defined in the 1984 easement, to earn sufficient income for its operating and maintenance costs can be allowed.

In addition, the easement specifies that such activities must preserve the historical, cultural, and architectural ambience.

An increase in the number of bedrooms by about 25-30 and modest expansion of kitchen and meeting rooms would be an obvious way to meet the terms of the easement.

Visions that exceed what is required to operate and maintain Belmont, as it is defined in the 1984 easement, are not and should not be allowed. The future of all historic land preservation easements is at stake in this case.

Susan Craig

Elkridge

County intent on Belmont lauded

I applaud Howard County's intent to purchase the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge from the Howard Community College Educational Foundation. I believe the parks division will respect the trust's stated intentions for the use of the property, honoring its importance as uniquely undeveloped land with ancient trees and meadows abutting the park, as well as the historic significance of its beautiful manor house and barn.

This purchase will ensure that if and when the county leases the property to the college for continued use as a conference center and for college activities, such as classes in hospitality management, that the integrity of this historic treasure will not be disturbed and irreparably destroyed. In proposing to purchase this amazing part of Howard County history, our officials are acting courageously and responsibly; they make me very proud of their vision.

Audrey Suhr

Elkridge

Purchase Belmont with state funds

Belmont is a one-of-a-kind, historic treasure in Elkridge. The county should purchase Belmont using state funds to minimize the impact on the local budget. The county must establish a good working relationship with the neighbors of Belmont based on transparency and trust. A well-designed and managed hospitality program that trains students for the food service industry could be a good use for the Manor House. We must work together to be responsible stewards of Belmont and other quickly disappearing historic properties in Howard County.

Courtney Watson

Ellicott City

The writer is a member of the Howard County School Board and a candidate for the County Council.

College president's statement criticized

Howard Community College President Mary Ellen Duncan originally testified that Howard County builder Harry "Chip" Lundy had contributed $1 million with no strings attached to be used by the college to purchase the Belmont estate. She now says, "Bottom line, it was wrong. I said an incorrect thing."

"Incorrect thing?" Could that be a nuanced euphemism for "It was a lie"?

Arthur Laupus

Columbia

Belmont should be a wake-up call

Undoubtedly, Howard County politicians will lurch toward a public-appeasing resolution on the use of Belmont. But Belmont should be a wake-up call for Howard County residents on the potential perils of unelected foundations operating in quasi-governmental roles.

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