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Plan for Belmont center draws residents' questions and suspicions


Howard Community College's draft master plan for the Belmont Conference Center was met with lots of questions and a dose of suspicion by community members at a public meeting Monday night.

Since the college bought the center, an 18th-century manor house, neighbors of the Elkridge property have been outspoken in their desire to see it preserved with as little change as possible.

"Belmont was given as a gift to the nation to be preserved in perpetuity," said Burnet Chalmers, a neighbor of the property.

He said he and other community members started out supportive of the college's efforts, but after several months of disagreements, "now we're getting cynical."

Matthew D'Amico, a consultant with the Design Collective who led the planning process, presented the plan at the meeting.

He said the college was working to "integrate those uses that would help support and maintain Belmont."

The college plan outlines a new "inn" that would provide more bedrooms for visitors, an addition to the existing carriage house for hospitality management classrooms and kitchens, and a wellness center.

Also, the college is considering a classroom building for horticulture, landscaping and other "green" subjects and a conservatory that would enable the site to have larger events - such as concerts - in the winter.

Last week, Anne Johnson, manager of Belmont, said the center has been losing money, particularly after its previous owner, the American Chemical Society, decided to stop using the site for its events.

Historic easements on the land allow development that is needed for Belmont to remain economically viable as a conference center, where clients can hold meetings, retreats and events such as weddings.

Local residents, many of whom have formed a group called Save Belmont, say that means only development necessary to maintain the location, not elements intended to make it grow.

Meg Schumacher, a nearby resident, said the neighbors have supported modest expansion plans in the past, and have been in favor of more bedrooms to help Belmont draw more business.

But, she said, she does not want to see taxpayers paying for buildings and amenities at the site.

The plan also includes a new access road connecting the Belmont property to Landing Road. The current entry, Belmont Woods Road, is a mile-long, one-lane road. An easement exists through the forested land, which is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Another meeting with citizens will be held in late next month or in early October. The college plans to finish its master plans by November.

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