In a further sign of ballooning property values in eastern Baltimore County, county government soon will buy a grain farm for 20 percent more than its appraised value, gaining room for a road and ball fields.
The County Council is expected to approve tonight the $1.59 million purchase of 30 acres of agricultural land at 4905 E. Joppa Road from Bernard H. Schwartz and his brother and sons. The purchase price equals $53,000 an acre.
"It's the cost of land in that area," said Robert J. Barrett, a top aide to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "When you get into growth areas like Honeygo and Owings Mills, they are extremely short on land, and you are bound by market values."
The Schwartz property is about two miles north of White Marsh Mall and a half-mile north of Honeygo Park, within an area the county has designated for upscale new homes, which it hopes will draw young families to the area.
"We either buy it now at $250,000 over appraised value, or we lose it to development," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, the Perry Hall Democrat who represents the area. "The market demands it."
County officials began negotiating with the Schwartz family in October but, according to county documents, talks reached an impasse March 1.
That's when the county withdrew its offer of $1,525,000 -- $75,000 less than what the Schwartzes wanted -- and began plans to seize the land through condemnation. An appraiser for the county had pegged the property value at $1,325,000.
The county at first wanted to construct on part of the property an extension of Honeygo Boulevard that would connect Belair Road with Route 43. But because the road would run through the center of the farm, the county decided to buy the entire parcel, and will use land on either side of the road for parks.
The council had planned to vote today to begin the condemnation lawsuit, but the two sides agreed on a final price last week.
"You always want more, but we're satisfied," said Schwartz.
Schwartz said the property has been in his family for more than a century. His grandfather grew vegetables and sold them in the city. With development spreading outward, the family's farming operations now are concentrated on 350 acres in Harford County.
"It's more farming area up here," he said. "It's hard for agriculture and development to get together. I don't think agriculture is going to win anytime."
The Schwartz purchase can be seen as part of a trend in which the county pays high prices for land in the White Marsh-Perry Hall area.
In December, the County Council approved the purchase of 16.5 acres adjacent to Perry Hall High School for $445,000, 23 percent more than its appraised value.