More than 50 residents went to a Howard County Board of Appeals hearing last night to voice their opinions on a proposal to turn a historic Savage home into a country inn.
At 10 p.m., the board was still hearing the petitioner's testimony -- it had not gotten to the opposition -- and it seemed unlikely the board would vote. The next hearing is scheduled for July 11.
Susan Betts, owner of the Joshua Barney House on Savage-Guilford Road, has applied for a special exception to convert the two-story brick home into an inn.
The inn would accommodate overnight guests and would be available for gatherings of no more than 50 people.
The case has pitted neighbor against neighbor in this quiet community. Most at last night's meeting seemed to oppose the proposed inn, judging by stickers they wore, but a fair number supported it.
The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built about 1811 by Commodore Joshua Barney, a hero of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. It sits on about 7 acres.
According to the proposal, the inn would have four rooms and a parking lot for 27 vehicles. For events, a tent could be put up in an area in front of the house. The inn could be rented for seminars, receptions and other gatherings of no more than 50 people. Small mementos of Commodore Barney would be sold to guests.
The Howard County Planning Board recommended approval of the special exception in March.
Neighbors who oppose the inn had not gotten a chance to speak late last night, other than asking questions of witnesses. But it was clear through their questions that they worried about traffic and noise the inn could generate.
In the past, they have said traffic is congested because of nearby Bollman Bridge Elementary School and Patuxent Valley Middle School.
A traffic expert, Lee Cunningham, testified last night that the inn would not have a significant effect on traffic in the neighborhood. Cunningham, who said he has a background as a planner and transportation engineer for the State Highway Administration, testified on Betts' behalf.
Neighbors who support the inn said they looked forward to having a tenant there who would keep up the historic home and its grounds, maintaining or improving property values in the neighborhood.
Mary Ann Gardes, a member of the community who has served on the Howard County Historic District Commission, said she thinks the country inn would be an "asset to the community."
Elaine Johanson, another supporter, said that before she heard about the country inn proposal, she worried that nobody would be able to take care of the property because of its size and historic nature.
"I think it's wonderful that somebody could come in and have a country inn and maintain that property," she said.