Development looms for Colonial estate

Money would enable Carroll's kin to restore Howard County manor

May 22, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN REPORTER

A 30-year agreement that has prohibited development on an 892-acre portion of historic Doughoregan Manor is set to expire tomorrow, paving the way for hundreds of new homes on one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in Howard County.

The property is a remnant of a once vast Colonial estate of more than 10,000 acres. The manor was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

Doughoregan Manor, in western Ellicott City, was the home of Charles Carroll of Carrolton and is the only home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence still in family hands.

The end of the agreement with the Maryland Historic Trust, known as a historic easement, allows descendants of Carroll, the Declaration's only Catholic signer, to follow through on plans to develop some of the land to pay for the restoration of their 20-room mansion and 30 other historic buildings while preserving family ownership.

The land covered by the easement is zoned for about 450 homes, and nearby residents say they worry that such development would increase traffic and crowd schools.

"This will probably be the most high-profile easement that ever expired," said Richard Brand, chief financial officer of the Maryland Historic Trust in Annapolis. "Every superlative you can imagine can be used on this property."

Doughoregan, north of Route 108 and south of Frederick Road, is the largest tract of undeveloped land in a county where new detached homes often sell for $800,000 or more.

The estate is so private - far from major roads and accessible by private lanes - that many county residents don't know it exists, and few have been invited to see it. The Carrolls want to continue that tradition.

The 892-acre portion is called North Manor. Adjacent is a 1,200-acre portion owned by the Carrolls that is in permanent preservation.

A 540-acre portion closer to Route 108 on the south end of the property, owned by another branch of the Carroll family, is called South Manor.

The estate sits just beyond the densely populated eastern section of Howard County that is served by public sewer and water lines. For decades, Howard officials have agreed not to extend public utilities outside that area for fear of opening the entire western county to dense growth.

Preservationists often see development as a danger to historic buildings, but the Carroll family's stewardship of Doughoregan Manor over 290 years makes it different, said Michael Day, the trust's chief of preservation services.

"In this particular case we're not concerned about the safety and preservation of this property because we firmly believe their mission is the same [as ours]," Day said. "The property is safe with the Carrolls."

Camilla Carroll, who owns Doughoregan with her brother Philip D. Carroll, said their hope of preserving it for their children is proving difficult to fulfill.

The Carrolls don't want to destroy the ambience of their land by covering it with large-lot suburban sprawl requiring wells and septic systems. They would rather cluster new homes in one area.

They began raising money last fall, with the private sale of development rights to 75 acres of their land. The sale allows builders to use the development rights on land elsewhere in the county.

"Once the easement expires, we will find ourselves in an extraordinarily vulnerable position," Camilla Carroll wrote in an e-mail forwarded to The Sun by Brad Phillips, a Washington media relations expert hired by the siblings.

"Should one of the two of us die unexpectedly, estate taxes would take half the value of the entire estate - including the land - and we would lose the entire estate," the e-mail says.

"Even if that situation never comes to pass, many of the historic buildings are in disrepair and need millions of dollars worth of restoration work. Some are literally being held upright by strategically placed stones, and could crumble at any time."

Only a combination of development and preservation will raise enough money to keep the estate in repair and in family hands, Camilla Carroll said. Efforts to craft a plan to do both are in the preliminary stage, she wrote.

"Our discussions have centered on preserving the largest amount of farmland possible and respecting the character of neighboring communities while providing our family with sufficient resources to maintain Doughoregan's historic buildings," she wrote.

County officials have said the family wants to raise at least $20 million.

"They're looking at how they can take the density they're entitled to and minimize the impact on the manor," said the county's planning director, Marsha S. McLaughlin, who met with the Carrolls this month.

The expiration of the easement means nothing in isolation, said County Executive Ken Ulman, but "it heightens the concern" over the property's future.

Ulman said it is "unlikely" that he would support extending public water and sewerage to Doughoregan.

"But I'm keeping an open mind," he said. "I want to preserve as much of that property as possible from development."

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