Testimony divided on plans to develop part of historic Doughoregan

Some applaud preservation of Carroll estate

others fear traffic, school crowding

March 21, 2010|By John-John Williams IV | john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Public testimony was split evenly last week over whether Howard County should negotiate an agreement with a developer that would allow construction of 325 homes at historic Doughoregan Manor while preserving most of the Colonial estate's remaining land.

"We heard a lot of good testimony on both sides of the issue," said County Council Chairwoman Courtney Watson.

She said the council will hold a work session Monday to address concerns raised during the testimony.

Watson and the rest of the council heard from more than 50 people Monday and Tuesday nights about plans for the estate in Ellicott City.

The County Council is scheduled to vote April 5 on a bill that would allow water and sewer lines into the northeastern corner of Doughoregan, which is owned by descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The Carroll family's development plan seeks to build the homes on 187 acres in the northeast part of the estate. The family plans to donate 34 acres to Howard County to expand Kiwanis-Wallas Park. The rest of the 892-acre estate would be preserved.

The alternative would be to spread about 400 homes across the property using septic systems and wells. That plan could destroy the ambience of the site, according to Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director. Under that plan, zoning would require that half the development land be open space; 110 acres would contain homes, while 781 acres would be left open.

If the homes are built under the Carrolls' plan, they would not be visible from the historic core of the property, McLaughlin has said. The Carrolls' goal is to generate millions of dollars that would be used to restore and maintain the mansion and nearly 30 other buildings on the property, according to McLaughlin.

The public hearing held last week was originally scheduled for one night, but a power outage in the middle of Monday's meeting prompted the council to arrange a second night of testimony from residents who left during the outage.

"It was very important to give the public an opportunity to speak," Watson said. "It is a very important question for the county. We want to give everyone an opportunity to influence the decision."

If council members vote to allow the utilities, a later zoning board deliberation on whether to change zoning on the land could be almost automatic. The council would have a year to work though the approval process for the construction plan. It would allow the Carroll family to proceed with a Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreement, which is a binding guarantee of a developer's promises. If the council votes against the plan, then the entire development project would be over, Watson said.

The council heard from a mix of supporters of the Carroll family, residents who live near the property, members of community organizations and historians.

Deborah Donovan, a member of the Centennial Lane Elementary School PTA, said her organization voted to oppose all forms of new growth in the area.

"The concerns for the needs of the school community need to be considered," she said. "[The plan] is shortsighted. If we start to move the boundaries for individual purposes, we set a bad precedent."

Donovan said her organization is concerned about safety, increased traffic and school crowding.

"The County Council bears responsibility for the safety of our children," Donovan said.

Ron Levendusky, who lives near the property, was against the alternative plan.

"I have concerns abut the Chesapeake watershed and my drinking water," he told the board. "Who is going to pay for the continuing maintenance of the facility? I can see a surcharge on our water and sewage bill."

Carla Baruch, who also lives near the Doughoregan property, opposed the Carroll family's plan.

"I have never been more upset or frustrated in all my life," she said. "The deal is being forced through like a freight train. We will see our properties decline in value. ... Just because the signer of the Declaration of Independence once owned the property doesn't mean that we should suffer."

Orlando Ridout, an architectural historian who serves as chief of the Office of Research, Survey and Registration for the Maryland Historical Trust, provided some context about the historical importance of the property. He prefaced his testimony by saying that he did not want to weigh in on the development component of the issue.

He said the property is unique among the 71 historic sites listed as National Historic Landmarks in Maryland. He described Doughoregan Manor as an "exceptionally intact" 18th-century plantation.

"It is worth noting that at least a dozen buildings among that assemblage are sufficiently rare and intact to be worthy of National Register listing as stand-alone resources, regardless of association with Doughoregan and the Carrolls," he said.

Kimberley Maclean, a representative of the board of directors of the Terra Maria Homeowners Association, testified that her group supports the Carrolls' plan. The Terra Maria subdivision is located across from Doughoregan.

"While we would prefer to never see any development of the Doughoregan estate, we realize that is an unrealistic expectation," she said. "We feel the Carrolls' proposal to cluster development, preserve the majority of the estate, whose historical significance cannot be overstated, in agricultural easement and provide more land for Kiwanis Park is a good compromise for everyone."

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