CA is wary of office-park plan

Construction issues, slave-quarters preservation come head to head

April 05, 2006|By LAURA CADIZ | LAURA CADIZ,SUN REPORTER

The Columbia Association is trying to preserve what is believed to be the oldest surviving slave quarters in Howard County - a small stone building that sits off a gravel road in northern Columbia, without a roof and with walls that threaten to fall down.

But the Columbia Association is concerned that the efforts by the homeowners association - which owns the site, estimated to date to the early 1700s - may be somewhat complicated by plans to build an office park on nearby land.

D. Ronald Brasher is planning to build a 74,000-square-foot office condominium building and parking lots near Woodlawn Manor, a mid-1800s, two-story, stuccoed stone house that is adjacent to the slave quarters.

The association's slave quarters task force is worried that should heavy construction equipment come near the slave quarters, it would threaten the fragile structure, said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, chairwoman of the task force.

However, Brasher said he does not plan to do any heavy construction near the slave quarters and that his development site is "football fields away" from the building.

"If I were worried about the slave quarters, I would have to be worried about my own house," he said, referring to the manor house.

Brasher had asked the Columbia Association to use part of the association's land to construct a road, but Brasher said they could not come to an agreement, and he has determined he does not need association land.

In exchange for granting the easement, the association requested from Brasher the ability to tap into a water source on his property; that heavy machinery does not come near the slave quarters; and a monetary donation toward restoration of the slave quarters, Atkinson-Stewart said.

The association has dedicated $125,000 toward saving the site and has thought about turning it into a museum or park, Atkinson-Stewart said.

On a recent tour of the site, Preservation Howard County President Mary Catherine Cochran speculated that a visitor center and archaeology displays could make the location "potentially a destination site for students."

Cochran, who also serves on the Columbia Association task force, said two projects seem important in the short term: cataloging the stones so the walls can be correctly rebuilt and documenting the history of the structure.

The task force has not developed a specific time line for the project, but it has agreed that a roof needs to be placed on the structure before next winter, Atkinson-Stewart said.

"I think it's an exciting situation to find this jewel of a piece [of history] sitting right here in Columbia," Atkinson-Stewart said. "I just think it's important, as part of our African-American history to preserve this as much as we can."

laura.cadiz@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Sandy Alexander contributed to this article.

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