Opponents testify against Doughoregan Manor plan

Owners want to restore estate with preservation funds

June 25, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

The Howard County Council will decide next month on a proposal that would add 500 acres to the county's Agricultural Preservation Program. While such issues are rarely controversial, neighbors of this Ellicott City property are asking officials to wait.

Council members heard more testimony Monday on contentious land-use issues that are pitting neighbors against the owners of Doughoregan Manor, who want to preserve more than half the 892-acre estate and develop a portion of it.

Funds from preservation easements and development revenues would allow the Carrolls, who are descendants of one of Maryland's founding families, to restore their historic estate. The Carroll family plans to use the nearly $19 million from the land preservation program, which is funded by real estate transfer tax revenues, and proceeds from development of a proposed 325 single-family homes to restore the manor house and about 30 outbuildings.

But neighbors are trying to delay the preservation proposal, which has the support of several county agencies, until all aspects surrounding the development of 221 acres into housing on the northeastern corner of the property are resolved.

The Chateau Ridge Lake Community Association, which is made up of several hundred homes off Centennial Lane near Burnside Drive, said the new homes would significantly increase traffic and the infrastructure required, most notably public water and sewer, would have an adverse impact on their properties. They said they want any decision on Doughoregan delayed until all development issues are reviewed and approved.

"This project should be postponed pending the resolution of all issues," said Harry Carnes, a neighbor of the property.

The project is tied to the county's first Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreement, which holds developers to promises made during the review process, residents said. The Carrolls would be required to preserve their farmland, spend funds on restoration, keep the density of new homes at promised levels, and evaluate alternatives for treating or reusing wastewater.

"All the various issues and incidents at play in this precedent-setting case" should be resolved and the family should have a long-term preservation strategy in place before any public funds are disbursed and before any development moves forward, Carnes said.

Joy Levy, administrator of the county's Agricultural Preservation Program, urged approval of the proposal.

"This is an important acquisition for the ag program, due to the size and historic significance of this property," Levy said.

About 1,430 acres surrounding Doughoregan are already preserved, and if the current proposal is approved along with several other contiguous parcels in consideration, the acreage permanently safeguarded from development would nearly double.

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

The Carrolls say they need money to maintain and repair the mansion and 30 other buildings, and to keep the property in the family.

If the new homes can be concentrated on one part of the estate, the Carrolls say, they can preserve 90 acres around the 282-year-old manor house and a dozen other historic structures in addition to the 500 acres submitted for Agricultural Preservation. Their plan would also give 36 acres to Howard County to expand a nearby park. Another 75 acres are already in preservation.

County planners, school and recreation leaders, the fire chief, and environmental and public works officials have said at several hearings that the family's plan is a sound concept from each of those perspectives. The League of Women Voters weighed in Monday saying agriculture is "the preferred use for land in the county," said Alice Giles, representing the group.

The Carrolls' proposal 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, county officials say. The council also approved in April the extension of public water and sewer to the property.

Neighbors did not object so strongly when the Carrolls initially planned to sell some of the land for a 2,000-unit retirement community. That plan died last year with the collapse of the senior housing market. The concept for clustered homes, from 2,500- to 3,000-square-feet, became the family's next option. If that plan fails, the likely alternative would be large homes with wells and septic systems built throughout the property.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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