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Parkland donation ends years of strife over farm


One of Anne Arundel's most contentious waterfront land-use debates was settled yesterday as owners of Edgewater's Homeport Farm, a stretch of undeveloped shoreline along Church Creek, celebrated with county officials their donation of 25 acres of parkland as part of a plan that will see single-family homes built nearby.

Members of the Davis family, which has owned the farm since the early 1900s, said the agreement ends more than a decade of negotiations with government agencies as well as litigation by environmental groups and neighbors who opposed initial proposals of playing fields and plans to construct 29 houses on part of the 80-acre farm.

Family members had rejected multimillion-dollar bids for the property by environmental groups that objected to the project's use of "growth allocations." The term refers to the allotment of waterfront acres within designated conservation areas that can be developed under state law.

The Davis family donated 25 acres to the county for parkland and sold about 49 acres to Winchester Homes Inc. The Bethesda-based company has started development on the site, which will include 29 single-family houses, said Michael J. Conley, Winchester's vice president of development. Homes should be ready by next year, he said. The developer also has reforestation plans for parts of the property. The family, which is keeping about 6 acres, declined to disclose the purchase price.

County officials supported establishing a park to ease crowding at other playing fields. In 2000, County Executive Janet S. Owens suggested amending the county code to permit construction of six houses within 300 feet of tidal wetlands, while still complying with state requirements. Residents and the owners later collaborated on the plan for a more passive-use park, rather than ball fields.

"It's a very sensitive area," said Kincey Potter, president of the South River Federation, describing potential erosion from steep slopes into Church Creek, which feeds into the South River.

She said she approved of the park plans. "We think they've done the right things as far as the conservation areas," Potter said.

Davis family members once grew crops such as corn, wheat, tobacco, cotton and sugar cane, said Rockville resident Hunting "Chip" Davis Jr., who grew up on the farm. The family also raised chickens to supply eggs to the Naval Academy.

As his parents grew older, he said, it became clear that something needed to be done with the property.

"It became a situation of necessity," said Davis, 63.

The property is "25 acres of serene paradise, just a perfect location for a park," said Dee Davis of Annapolis, Chip Davis' sister-in-law.

She coordinated much of the development project for the family. They have "a little bit of relief now, knowing it's done," she said.

Her mother- and father-in-law did not live to see this resolution. Chip Davis said his father died in 2000. His mother died this spring.

Recreation and park officials will conduct a community-based planning process once the project has been added to future county budgets, said Jack T. Keene, the Department of Recreation and Parks' chief of planning and construction.

The park will feature a nature study area and a launch for nonmotorized watercraft, Keene said. Several houses and barns will be preserved, and the family will retain a Depression-era home built by Chip Davis' grandfather.

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