When Mitchell Kolkin looks out his bedroom window to the wooded ridge to the west, he sees four 350-foot-tall radio towers looming above.
But Kolkin doesn't consider them an eyesore marring the rolling countryside. He sees them as a monument to the preservation of Caves Valley, a bowl-shaped expanse of farms and woodland that once formed part of a grand plantation belonging to Charles Carroll, Barrister.
The towers stand as a result of the first deal made by the Caves Valley Land Trust, which has saved virtually the entire valley in a 10-year battle to halt development in one of Baltimore County's most scenic areas. The ridges above the valley are dotted with houses, including a number of mansions, but the lowlands still look much as they did 200 years ago, when laborers tilled tobacco in the fields.
Though the valley lies five miles outside the Baltimore Beltway and one mile from the office buildings of Owings Mills Town Center, it seems a world away, with its cattle pastures, cornfields and wild woodlands that are home to deer, foxes and herons.
"It's a miracle," said George Doub, who has lived in Caves Valley all of his 58 years and is vice president of the land trust. "If you come to my house and look out the window, it looks exactly like it did when I was growing up."
The land trust holds jointly with the Maryland Environmental Trust 13 easements totaling more than 1,200 acres in the valley, almost all of the valley floor. An additional 243 acres is covered by development restrictions more stringent than zoning regulations.
The group is looking at the valley's last significant parcel of undeveloped, unprotected property, 90 acres at the state's Rosewood Center.
Kolkin, president of the Caves Valley trust, attributes the group's success to luck, hard work and a heavy dose of pragmatism.
The luck is the valley's geography -- mostly marshy lowlands that have discouraged development -- and its history of relatively few property owners.
In the early 1700s, settlers arrived in the valley, which is punctuated with limestone caves. Dr. Charles Carroll acquired the land in 1730 and passed it on to his son, Charles Carroll, Barrister, whose main home was Mount Clare.
The Carroll family ran an extensive plantation with tobacco fields and iron ore mines worked by free men and slaves. In the late 1700s or early 1800s, the Carrolls built the Caves mansion.
Kolkin and his wife, Kathie Pontone, moved into the creaky mansion in 1982. Two years later, they were fighting the first of a series of zoning battles to protect their community from development. A group of investors wanted to build 200 houses on property that is now part of the Caves Valley Golf Club.
They and their neighbors defeated development proposals in 1984 and 1988, but they wondered how long they could keep the bulldozers at bay.
So Kolkin, Pontone and their neighbors developed a two-part defensive strategy. First, they hired a historian and petitioned for Caves Valley to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the first land in Maryland to receive that designation solely for the value of the land.
"The land itself is a historic resource," Pontone said. "It showed the development of land through the centuries."
Second, they formed a land trust, an organization that could solicit and hold the development rights to properties, preserving the land.
Members of the land trust tirelessly lobbied neighbors to donate development rights and testified at public meetings against development, but Kolkin said much of their success stems from pragmatism, a willingness to make deals to save the valley.
"Land is worth money," Kolkin said. "You're never going to get anywhere with the owner of the land if you don't understand that."
In 1988, for example, they reached an agreement with Summit-Baltimore Broadcasting Corp., allowing the company to erect four radio towers on 103 acres if the company donated development rights to the Maryland Environmental Trust.
Some residents complained, saying the towers were an eyesore, but Kolkin said the towers "remind me of what a great deal we made."
Preserving that tract thwarted the extension of public water and sewer lines into the area and helped stave off development. The trust also elicited a promise from the broadcasting company to raze the towers when they are no longer needed.
The deal was the first for the Caves Valley Land Trust, one of the oldest and most successful of the state's 44 local land trusts.
In 1989, the trust scored another success when developers of the Caves Valley Golf Club donated more than 400 acres to the land trust and the Maryland Environmental Trust.
The golf course presented another opportunity to compromise for the sake of saving large parcels of land. In exchange for permitting a golf course and 34 houses, the land trust saved nearly 1,000 acres from development. The trust also negotiated a separate environmental agreement with the club to assure monitoring of wells on the site.
Radio towers and golf clubs aren't usually the kinds of properties the Maryland Environmental Trust prizes, but they proved the means to a better end, said John Bernstein, director of that organization.
"The valley floor is still incredibly pristine," he said. "It's got a tremendous remote feeling."
Although the Maryland Environmental Trust has been accepting easements since the 1960s, Kolkin said the advantage of the local land trust is that it can lobby friends and neighbors to donate development rights and help monitor the properties to assure compliance with the trust's rules.
The last major property the trust hopes to save is 90 acres at the old Rosewood State Hospital.
The state's Office of Planning has recommended giving that property to the Irvine Natural Science Center, which is losing some of its research area to a housing development. The center is evaluating the proposal, and officials say that if they accept the state's offer, they will donate development rights to the land trust and the Maryland Environmental Trust.
A decision by the center is expected within several months, said board President Lynn R. Jordan.
If the deal goes through, most of the land trust's work will be done, Kolkin said. "We want to have a big party and ask people to reflect upon all that was accomplished," he said.
Pontone said the 10 years of work has been worth it.
"There isn't a day that goes by that you don't go out of the driveway and see a blue heron or a barn owl," she said. "You feel like you're the custodian of this."
Pub Date: 2/06/99