Neighbors of the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge have filed a lawsuit against Howard Community College over the use of the private one-lane road that connects the property to the nearest county road, a mile away.
Dale N. Schumacher and Barbara Parker, a married couple who live on Belmont Woods Road, indicate in their suit filed Friday in Howard County Circuit Court that a 14-foot section of the right of way into Belmont goes across their property.
Schumacher said the property was zoned for limited use as a private "retreat center," and that he and the American Chemical Society, Belmont's former owner, formalized a covenant in 2003 that allowed use of the road for events such as weddings and parties of up to 400 people.
Schumacher said the agreement, which outlines the number, size and type of events and provisions for maintaining the road, was intended to allow Belmont to make more money to support the historic manor and grounds while protecting the environmental and historical elements of the location.
Since the Howard Community College Educational Foundation bought the center in 2004 and leased it to the college, Schumacher said, the covenant has been "regularly ignored."
He is asking the court to declare that the right of way is for the uses of a private retreat center and that the covenant allowing other uses is binding.
"I look forward to this action to clarify for HCC/HCCEF the need to conform to such covenants and right of way," he said in a statement. "This would substantially limit or prevent HCCEF/HCC from developing Belmont as a commercial conference center or as a college campus."
Spokesman Randy Bengfort said the college "welcomes a suit about the agreement made between Dale Schumacher and the previous owner of Belmont. ... The suit will give the college and its educational foundation the opportunity to put to rest the erroneous claims about the agreement."
In a previous response to Schumacher's concerns, Michael W. Davis, the educational foundation's counsel, wrote that because Belmont is now owned or operated by a unit of government, HCC is not required to seek a conditional use for the property and the covenant does not come into play.
Bengfort said residents on Belmont Woods Road are "attempting to make their own judgments and take control of the activities at Belmont, where in reality those activities should be dictated by Belmont's historic easement and its economic viability guidelines."
"The agreement effectively undermines the historic easement, and that's why the college has opposed it," Bengfort said.