Historic Howard property in flux

Firm negotiating with Carroll descendants to develop retirement community

September 04, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Departing from a long tradition of almost reclusive privacy, the Howard County descendants of a signer of the Declaration of Independence are publicizing their latest idea for developing a portion of Doughoregan Manor, the family's three-century-old estate.

Erickson Retirement Communities is negotiating with Camilla Carroll and her brother Philip D. Carroll, descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, about building a new community on the eastern edge of an 892-acre portion of the estate that emerged from three decades of historic preservation in May. Their father, Philip Carroll, lives on the estate.

"It's very preliminary, but it's very transparent. It's an effort to keep people informed" and get feedback, said Howard County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat whose district includes Doughoregan.

Both Watson and County Executive Ken Ulman said yesterday they still have lots of questions about the idea, and plan to tour an Erickson community in Montgomery County tomorrow. Erickson also operates Charlestown and Oak Crest retirement communities in Baltimore County.

"I'm more open to it than I thought I might be," after giving it some thought and speaking to the Carrolls, Ulman said. Traffic and density are his two biggest worries, he said.

The Carrolls are fighting time and financial pressures to perpetuate a goal that has continued through nine generations - to maintain the heart of the property surrounding the 280-year-old, 20-room mansion and chapel, plus 30 outbuildings, in their hands and away from prying public eyes.

Once consisting of more than 10,000 acres long before Howard County was formed from Anne Arundel, Charles Carroll's Colonial holdings are now reduced to about one-fifth of that. Doughoregan is situated between Frederick Road on the north and Route 108 on the south in western Ellicott City, but it is so secluded - by design - that many county residents aren't aware it exists.

Camilla Carroll has said that the death of either her or her brother could bring estate taxes "that would take half the value of the entire estate, including the land - and we would lose the entire estate."

The family will need tens of millions of dollars for maintenance and repairs, and for taxes in the future - money that can only come from development, the Carrolls have told county officials. But the estate is located in central Howard County where residents and elected officials are wary of more congestion. The Carrolls sold development rights on 75 acres last year to raise money to begin repairs.

Camilla Carroll said in an e-mail yesterday that she sees the Erickson proposal as a potential best solution for the family and the public.

"An Erickson Retirement Community would require no more than 150 acres. That's about half of what we were first planning to develop. It's one-sixth of what we could develop by right. Thus the Erickson option preserves the most land, which is one of our primary goals."

Under current zoning, the family could build hundreds of new homes, though they would be spread over most of the property.

Their plan is to squeeze new development into a small portion of land nearest Centennial Lane, preserving the rest.

A retirement community also eliminates worry about crowded schools, and Erickson typically builds self-contained complexes that include medical care, restaurants, and transportation for residents who can move into assisted-living units as they become frail.

But a project with more than 1,000 apartments in buildings as high as four stories would also require public water and sewer lines, and the Carrolls' land is just beyond the current boundary for public utilities.

Ulman and Watson said yesterday they can see distinct advantages to the concept, but that they are wary.

"The only way I could agree to support this is if the rest of the land is preserved in perpetuity," Ulman said.

Allowing development on a portion of the land would let the Carrolls permanently preserve the rest of the estate, creating a barrier to any further expansion of development on the property.

At the same time, public officials have said that if a deal is struck, they would like some Doughoregan land to expand a small public park on Frederick Road at the estate's edge, and some moderate or low-income units in a complex.

Utility pipes already run under a portion of the land, Ulman said, and as a former elder law attorney, "I have nothing but the highest regard for [Erickson] facilities."

After the Carrolls announced their intention, Watson e-mailed 200 community leaders late last week and the Washington Post published an article about the proposal yesterday.

Several residents said they would like the estate preserved without development but want something for the public if water and sewer rights are granted to the Carrolls.

"There needs to be some pretty significant public good component to that land. It's a pretty big deal to extend sewer and water," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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