Howard Co. to buy Belmont from community college

Howard County government is moving to buy Belmont, the historic 18th-century Elkridge estate left vacant in December when owner Howard Community College removed its culinary training classes and canceled future rentals.

The Ulman administration announced Friday that the county is exercising its right of first refusal to make the purchase, though plans for the property are uncertain. There has been discussion of having a local environmental group operate programs there and manage the property.

The college had an offer of $2.7 million for the entire property, but County Executive Ken Ulman said that is too low to allow a sale.

"At that price I just could not let a historic treasure go," he said.

Because the college owes the county about $2.6 million for Belmont, all the county must do is forgive the debt and pay the $89,188 difference from the proposed sale price. The county wants the property preserved, available for public use, and open for private weddings and other events.

"I don't see much downside," Ulman said. "By all accounts we're at the bottom of the market."

If county efforts to operate the estate prove burdensome, he said, the property could be offered for sale again when real estate prices rise.

The 81-acre property includes a pale yellow house, built in 1738, on 68 acres and a separate house on 13 acres. It has been up for sale since September, but no offers have come close to the $5.2 million the college paid for it.

The college, which once hoped to renovate the estate and rent it out for weddings and other events while training students in hospitality and culinary skills, gave up the project as too expensive amid the recession.

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