While a work crew pounds in stakes for a wedding tent they're erecting on Maxine and Bob Walker's Woodbine farm, the Walkers are in their den explaining to a visitor why the tent — and more specifically, the money it will bring in — is needed.
"We renovated the barn," Maxine Walker said.
"I bet we spent almost half a million dollars on it," Bob Walker put in.
"Even this house — we put a new roof on it," Maxine Walker continued. "We gutted this room, we gutted the kitchen. Even the floor.
"We've planted 31 trees since we've been here — and they were big trees," she added. "When you start taking on projects like that, it really does add up."
Nearly two years ago, the Walkers won a bitter battle with some of their neighbors for the right to host weddings and other outdoor events on their historic 146-acre farm, Harwood Farm, located off Jennings Chapel Road in the heart of rural Howard County.
The Walkers, who bought Harwood Farm in 1994, said they needed the money to maintain and restore the property, which includes a house built in 1840 and several other buildings.
But neighbors opposed their request for a conditional use, arguing that the noise, lights and traffic from the events would destroy the quiet, rural character of their neighborhood.
The headline-making debate raged for nearly six years. Finally, in December 2011, the county Board of Appeals agreed with the Walkers and voted unanimously to give them the right to host 25 outdoor events a year, with several conditions. The board also granted their request to open a small antique shop in an existing building on the farm.
The approval was granted under a 2006 law intended to help the owners of historic farmland supplement their income.
Now, nearly two years after the board decision, the Walkers' wedding business is getting off the ground — barely. The wedding they hosted Saturday, Sept. 28, was only the third since they won permission to do so. This weekend, they will host another event, a political fundraiser for GOP state delegate candidate Frank Mirabile, and they are booked for another wedding for next May.
And that's it.
"It's slow," Maxine Walker said. "It's taking off slow. I had hoped it would move along faster."
"It will," put in husband Robert. "It will."
Fear of change
Maxine Walker, who worked for years in the Reagan White House, is reluctant to talk about the divisive, headline-making battle over the couple's request, during which neighbors lined the winding Jennings Chapel Road with protest signs.
She attributes the opposition to fear of change.
"People do not want change," she said. "That's what this was all about. And there's always going to be change."
She also said the ill feelings and wounds from the zoning battle have been healing.
"All the signs have come down," she added. "People who were protesting against us have told people that were for us that they've sat in their backyard and listened to the music, and it's not like they thought it would be. … I just don't hear people making derogatory remarks."