Cromwell Valley eyed for public use County, state woo farm owners


State and Baltimore County officials are negotiating with the owners of two large properties in a plan that would bring public ownership to the entire Cromwell Valley.

Officials expect some decisions within 30 days, the state-imposed deadline for the county to develop a plan to manage the most immediate target, the 102-acre Sherwood Farm.

The Sherwood property, about three miles northeast of Towson, is under a conservation easement and can never be developed, although it can be sold as a farm. Representatives of the estate that owns it have approached the state and county about buying it.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer broached the idea of buying the whole valley in January, when he was impressed by the rolling countryside and beautiful vistas of the 220-acre Satyr Hill Farm, which the state and county bought this year.

The third major piece of property in the valley is the 137-acre Good Fellowship Farm, owned by C. Franklin Eck Jr. Sixty acres of that property already have been developed with housing, and neighborhood associations have been fighting further building plans.

David M. Meadows, Mr. Eck's attorney, said there have been recent discussions of a "general nature" with the county.

Wayne Harman, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said, "We have a magic moment here, where the entire Cromwell Valley can be saved for public use."

The county budget, passed Wednesday by the council, includes $1 million for land acquisition in the valley.

The state Department of Natural Resources and the county's Department of Recreation and Parks are cooperating in the negotiations on Sherwood Farm.

"We're interested in protecting the valley," Mike Nelson, of the DNR, said. "Sherwood Farm is already protected from development, and we've asked the county to come up with a master plan for the property in the next 30 days and tell us how public ownership will enhance it."

Sherwood Farm was recently appraised at "close to $2 million," according to Craig Hornig, attorney for the Sherwood estate.

That price includes an English manor house with 6,743 square feet of living space, eight bedrooms and seven baths. There is also a swimming pool and a small cottage on the property.

Baltimore County holds a 99-year lease on Satyr Hill Farm and has plans to maintain and operate it as a working demonstration farm open to the public. The state and county split the $3.7-million cost of acquiring it from the estate of Robert Merrick, who died in 1986.

The adjoining Sherwood Farm is owned by the estate of Frances Wellington Sherwood, who died in December at the age of 93. Her son, Arthur Sherwood, said he would like to see the state and county buy the property and give the public accessto it.

"The two pieces together would make a wonderful addition to the county park system," he said. "But if they don't buy it, someone will."

Mr. Sherwood will retain title to 15 acres of woodland -- which he named Wellington Woods in honor of his mother -- on a ridge above the farm that he plans to keep in its natural state.

If the county and state complete acquisition of the Cromwell Valley properties, it would be a major victory for environmentalists and citizens groups, Mr. Sherwood said. "My father, Donald Sherwood, and Bob Merrick decided about 10 years ago to develop the two farms jointly for housing," he said. "They were businessmen, and to them, land meant money."

Donald Sherwood was president and majority owner of Ellicott Machine Corp., on Bush Street in South Baltimore. The company is a player in the dredge construction business. Mr. Merrick was president of the former Equitable Trust bank.

Both properties were zoned for one house per acre, but the owners wanted to increase the density significantly. Their proposal failed to pass the county zoning board. After Mr. Sherwood died in 1989, Mrs. Sherwood, with the agreement of her two sons and a daughter, pledged the farm to the Maryland Environmental Trust.

Arthur Sherwood, a semiretired attorney who founded the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 1966, said his father bought the property in 1932 and had the house built then.

The Sherwoods -- who were married for 67 years -- traveled extensively in pursuit of their hobby of fly fishing and accumulated a considerable quantity of household goods, which will be auctioned off at the farm Saturday by Dance Auctioneers.

Preview days are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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