Cromwell Valley: Do it now, or never

For a "do it now" kind of guy, Gov. William Donald Schaefer sure has been dragging his feet on the matter of the 216-acre Merrick farm in Baltimore County's Cromwell Valley.

For nearly five years, the Merrick family has tried to sell its land to the county and the state to ensure its preservation as a precious green expanse just beyond Towson. The family is now said to want to unload the property soon, which raises the possibility of developers turning the land into yet another pricey housing tract. A beautiful and historic open space would be lost forever.


Of the property's $3.7 million purchase price, the county would pay $1 million and lend the state $825,000 for the acquisition. The state would kick in $1.875 million up front.

Maryland set up an Open Space fund for just such purchases. But, to balance its budget in recent years, the state has drained the fund of $117 million. State bonds are now used to buy and preserve threatened properties, with the OK of a majority on the three-member Board of Public Works.


These bonds are available for the Merrick purchase, but for a major obstacle -- politics, as usual. Two members of the public works board, the governor and state comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, are still angry at Baltimore County legislators for opposing state tax hikes passed last April.

So our governor and comptroller not only got mad, they got even -- by denying the use of bond money to buy the Merrick farm. Odds are they don't feel any kindlier toward the county legislators after a majority of them voted against the $147 million budget deal passed last week in the General Assembly.

By cooperating on the deal, the delegation might have been rewarded with a decision by the governor to free up bond money for the Merrick purchase. That notion is now a bad joke, and probably will remain so, at least until the Governor's Mansion gets a new occupant.

It is now up to county leaders to investigate ways of obtaining the property with county funds or through one of those public-private partnerships that County Executive Roger Hayden promotes. If county officials need any motivation, they ought to recall their government's official view that open land in the north county should be preserved.

And if they need more motivation, they ought to take the short drive to the Merrick farm and look on the natural splendors that could be lost forever should government leaders fail to "do it now."