Historic Harwood Farm approved for antiques store, social events

Couple wins zoning decision, but neighbors vow appeal

May 27, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A Woodbine couple won zoning approval to hold outdoor social events and run an antiques store on a small part of their historic Harwood Farm, but angry neighbors plan to appeal, contending that the activities would ruin their rural ambiance.

County hearing examiner Michele L. LeFaivre issued a 43-page decision approving a conditional use for a 10-acre portion of Robert and Maxine Walker's 146-acre horse farm on Jennings Chapel Road, despite the testimony of 17 opposition witnesses. The rest of the farm is in agricultural preservation. The Walkers are the first county residents to make use of the 2006 law, which was intended to help owners of historic farms boost their income.

The Walkers plan to convert an existing shed to an antiques store that would operate from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. two days a week and by appointment, and to rent their land for up to 25 outdoor social events during warmer months, with up to 150 people attending. The decision bars music after 10 p.m. and requires written plans for handling traffic, refuse, access for the disabled and an alcohol policy.

"I think it's the only thing she could do," Robert Walker said about the opinion. "Let them appeal. I'll be right there."

In March, the Walkers said they need the income to continue restoration work on their 1840-era buildings and property, where they have lived for 15 years.

"I don't belong to a country club. I don't have a boat. Horses are my pleasure," said Robert Walker, 70.

"We want to make this farm much more beautiful," Maxine Walker said then.

Some neighbors have lined the road with protest signs.

"This will destroy our ability to operate our farm. It's an exploitation of the farm preservation program," said an angry Katherine Willson whose 72-acre farm next door is also in preservation. "Parties for profit are not agricultural business."

"I feel that one family's greed and boredom with country life is going to ruin their neighbors' life," said Sandra Lutes, who said she moved to the area 18 months ago believing that she was surrounded by preserved farms that would never change.

LeFaivre concluded that the Walkers' plans comply with the law. The hearing examiner declined to require paved parking, landscaping to shield neighbors' views or to put an expiration date on the approval, as critics had sought. She dismissed the complaints of neighbors who fear that the social events will bring loud music, traffic, drunken drivers and trash to the rural area.

"There is no credible evidence that the proposed use is incompatible with current farming and horse operations or with the proposed antique shop," her decision said. The neighbors' objections are "unsupported opinions and general conclusions" without any evidence to back them up, she wrote.

Theodore F. Mariani, who represented the neighbors at the April hearings, said he was not surprised at the result and that he would not participate in an appeal to the county Board of Appeals.

The decision was "thoroughly researched and is not likely to be overturned," he said, calling it "well-reasoned and fair."

"I expected it," he said.

But the Walkers' neighbors vowed to appeal.

"Virtually all the owners on Jennings Chapel Road are opposed to this," said Robert Long. "They are united. This is not over."

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