Howard officials support plan for Doughoregan development

But critics are not swayed by County Council discussion

March 28, 2010|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

Extending public water and sewer lines to allow 325 new homes at Doughoregan Manor appeared to get a boost Monday during a three-hour County Council discussion of the proposal to develop part of the historic Ellicott City estate.

Every county official questioned by council members on issues brought up by critics said the Carroll family's plan is the best way to proceed, though some issues - such as what to do with wastewater - defy easy answers.

Under the proposal, the new homes would be clustered in the northeast corner of the 892-acre estate, 34 acres would be donated for the expansion of a county park and the money raised through the development would enable preservation of the rest of the property.

If that is not done, said planning director Marsha McLaughlin, the risk is clear.

"Over time, the property would be divided up in a slow and steady process," she said, as the family developed large homes on scattered lots to raise money as needed.

The estate was once a 10,000-acre Colonial farm owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It has been preserved in Carroll family hands for nearly 300 years. Contiguous portions owned by Carroll cousins are now in permanent preservation.

Despite the officials' support, area residents who oppose the plan were not impressed.

"The only people who testified up there are the people who are in favor of it," said Harry Carnes. "There's no resolution of the sewer issues."

Neighbors testified during public hearings March 15 and 16 that the project would cause too much traffic, crowd area schools and could hurt their property values.

The council is scheduled to vote April 5 on the utility issue, which would amend the county's General Plan to move the boundary for public utilities westward to accommodate the plan. If it passes, council members sitting as the county zoning board would then consider changing the zoning on the 221 acres at issue off Frederick Road. A binding agreement between the famously private Carroll family and the county, guaranteeing the elements of the plan, would then have to be approved in order for the project to go forward.

If the Carrolls' plan is rejected, McLaughlin said, the family would eventually build big homes on large lots with wells and septic systems over much of the estate, with suburban sprawl destroying the pastoral setting.

The Carrolls say they need money to maintain and repair the nearly 300-year-old mansion and 30 other buildings, and to keep the property in family hands.

County planners, school and recreation leaders, the fire chief, and environmental and public works officials said the family's plan is a sound concept from each of those perspectives. It would preserve as much of the estate as possible while minimizing the environmental impact, expand Kiwanis-Wallas Park and provide the family the needed money.

If the plan goes forward, the Carrolls would also get about $18.5 million over two decades for placing 500 acres of their land into the county's Agricultural Preservation program, which is funded by real estate transfer tax revenues.

County public works director James Irvin said the county's wastewater plant in Savage would have enough capacity to treat sewage from Doughoregan and other nearby homes that would share the pipes, but that's not good enough given tightening state and federal regulations for protecting the Chesapeake Bay from nitrogen and pollution.

"We don't have a margin for error," he said. "It takes away from our cushion.

"We don't have a lot of excess capacity to play with," Irwin said, despite a $100 million plant expansion now under way. Still, he said, the homes would produce far less waste than the 2,000 units once proposed on the same land as an Erickson Retirement Community.

Irvin wants the Carrolls to treat the wastewater on the estate and use it there or nearby to help preserve the Savage plant's capacity. No certain way to do that has been determined. The connection to public sewers would serve as a fail-safe, he said.

McLaughlin said the Carrolls' plan fits the county's General Plan guide by protecting high-quality, strategically located farmland, adding to parkland, protecting Frederick Road's scenic road status, and complementing the county's still-developing Historic Preservation Program.

"I think we need to preserve it now," she said.

School planner Joel Gallihue said that new students from Doughoregan would be placed in schools to the west that have capacity, not Centennial Lane Elementary, and that the county owns a site for a possible new middle school if one is needed. Room is available at Marriott's Ridge High School for older students, though no new homes will likely be ready until 2014.

Fire Chief William Goddard said recent council approval of a bill requiring residential sprinklers for new homes eased his worries about fire protection. Ambulances would have no problem getting to the homes, he said.

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