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Land preservation debated in Clarksville

Haviland Mill Road neighbors Brooke Farquhar, left, and John Newhagen, look at a plan for development on a former farm down the street.
Haviland Mill Road neighbors Brooke Farquhar, left, and John Newhagen, look at a plan for development on a former farm down the street. (Staff photo by Amanda Yeager)

On a sunny October morning, a small group of neighbors gathered at Brooke Farquhar's Clarksville house to comb through zoning documents.

Eyes fixed on a map laid flat on the table, Farquhar pointed to a cluster of purple rectangles representing the 23 homes a developer is planning to build on nearby farmland. She and the rest of the group hope, instead, that at least some of the land can become public space.

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They see the property, a 99-acre parcel of fields and trees on Haviland Mill Road that's adjacent to a state preserve and backs up to the Patuxent River, as an increasingly rare example of untouched open space in their neck of Howard County.

Meanwhile, Elm Street Development, the firm planning the new subdivision, argues the design of the neighborhood they have planned will actually ensure more of the land will remain open space for years to come.

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At a town hall meeting Thursday night, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman criticized the Howard County Public School System's communication with parents about mold in school buildings.

The development combines land from two properties along Haviland Mill road, a quiet, sloping stretch located 3.5 miles from Clarksville Pike that connects Howard and Montgomery counties.

The front portion of the property, a 29.5-acre parcel, will be where most of the homes are located, while the rear, an additional 69.5 acres, will be dedicated as a preservation parcel. The site takes advantage of a cluster option under the county's rural residential zoning guidelines that allows for houses in the district – which are normally built on 4.25-acre lots – to be grouped together in order to preserve environmentally sensitive or open space elsewhere on the property.

Elm Street Development is donating 7.5 acres of the land to Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks, according to Jason Van Kirk, a vice president at Elm Street. The developer has also worked with community members to add a bench at the entrance of the development for children waiting for the school bus, as well as to modify landscaping to be more coherent with the feel of the road.

Van Kirk said clustering allows more land to be preserved than if homes were built on 4-acre lots.

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"In this case, the preserved ground is not somewhere way out in the county but it's in the neighborhood, in the spot where development is occurring," Van Kirk said.

Neighbors along Haviland Mill Road aren't quite convinced.

Together, Farquhar, John Newhagen, Margaret Walton and sisters Jenny Marrow and Theresa Marrow make up the steering committee for the Friends of Haviland Mill, a group they formed after learning of Elm Street Development's plans.

The Friends group numbers about 80 community members in all, according to Farquhar. They're concerned a patch of new homes in the neighborhood will diminish the street's rural feel and put a strain on the river and wildlife.

The road is rich in history: Farquhar's home dates to 1825, while another house in the neighborhood was built in the 1850s. Some families have lived on the road for generations.

"There's some real tangible historic value on this road that, especially in this part of the county, you don't see," Newhagen said. "I think a lot of us really didn't realize what we've got going here until we started."

The Friends also worry about the development's impact on the environment. The road is home to diverse wildlife, including blue herons, bald eagles, wild turkeys, deer, fox and the occasional peacock, according to a website, HavilandMill.com, that the group has created to advance their cause.

They argue much of the land that's being preserved is undevelopable, anyway – the property has lots of steep slopes and streams, according to Newhagen.

"We've got a diamond in the rough," said Jenny Marrow. "If you lost this to all these mansions, it's going to destroy the ecological system."

Help, direction and change were asked of Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman during his third town hall meeting Thursday evening in Clarksville as residents raised concerns of future development along Route 108.

"Our vision is a nice park here for people and preservation of the stream" on the property, Farquhar said. "I think it would be an attraction for people way beyond our neighborhood."

They've been writing to anyone they can think of who might be able to intervene, including the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. They've received some responses, but not the resolution they're hoping for.

At a town hall meeting in Lisbon on Oct. 22, Theresa Marrow took the Friends' case to County Executive Allan Kittleman, asking him to consider buying the property from Elm Street Development to give to the recreation and parks department.

Kittleman said there wasn't money in the budget to do that – and that he isn't so sure cluster development is a negative. He pointed out that land surrounding his family's farm in West Friendship became a subdivision under the cluster development option.

"Cluster development has been around for a long time," Kittleman said. "I'm not opposed to it."

As for arguments that steep slopes can't be developed, "that's the way it's always been," he said.

The two families who sold property to Elm Street Development to enable the subdivision have also spoken up in recent weeks to explain their thinking.

In a letter to the Howard County Times, Thomas Crawford, who inherited the property along with his two brothers when their mother died in 2013, said keeping the land would be too expensive.

"Emotionally, we would have liked to keep it; it was, after all, the home [in] which we'd grown up," he wrote. "Financially and practically, however, it simply was not possible."

Scott O'Keefe, whose family has lived on a farm on Haviland Mill Road for four generations and decided to sell the nearly 70 acres that will be put into preservation, said he supported the Crawfords' decision.

"What they are asking to do is well within their zoning," he said. "Our desire is to continue to live on the property, be good stewards of the property, as we have been since the '50s. We aren't going anywhere."

Newhagen acknowledges that the Crawfords and O'Keefes "have the right to derive money from their land.

"But," he said, "we question whether it's compatible with the landscape, the history, the geography and the context of the neighborhood."

The community has requested that Haviland Mill be designated a scenic road, and Councilman Greg Fox has agreed to support the legislation, which is likely to be introduced next month.

The project is still under review by the county's planning and zoning department. Eventually, it will head to the Planning Board for a hearing.

In the meantime, the Friends of Haviland Mill continue to search for options to save the land from development. They held a community meeting attended by 30 people on Oct. 24, and plan to set up a booth at Highland Day on Oct. 31.

Even in the face of what sometimes appears to be an unstoppable process, the group's members say they plan to continue to fight for the land to be preserved.

"It could be that the residents along Historic Haviland Mill Road will be outgunned yet again by these 'forces of progress,' and can't stop what many have sadly come to think is inevitable," their website reads. "But that is not going to keep the Friends of Haviland Mill Road from trying; they feel a sense of legacy and responsibility to the world that surrounds them."

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Friends of Haviland Mill member who spoke to County Executive Allan Kittleman at a town hall meeting. The speaker was Theresa Marrow. 

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