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Howard County is offering to add 1,000 acres of farmland to its Agricultural Land Preservation Program - including 500 acres on historic Doughoregan Manor, the nearly 300-year-old estate that belongs to descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The offers to seven landowners out of 13 applicants represent the largest potential addition to the county's 20,500 acres of preserved land in many years. The recession and the slowdown in development have made the program - in which the county pays up to $40,000 per acre over 20 years, plus interest for the property to remain undeveloped - much more attractive.

The offers include three other Carroll family members who own separate, smaller parcels totaling 178 acres contiguous with what is called North Manor, the remaining 892-acre estate and manor house left from what was once a more than 10,000-acre farm. The preservation money would go to help restore and preserve the core of the estate, aided by money Camilla and Philip Carroll hope to get from developing 325 new homes clustered on about 180 acres in the northeast corner of the Ellicott City property, south of Frederick Road and north of Route 108.

Another 34 acres would be donated to the county to expand Kiwanis-Wallas Park.

"We will consider it very seriously in the coming days, keeping in mind that it is the first step of our carefully crafted comprehensive plan to preserve Doughoregan," wrote Camilla Carroll in an e-mail.

The county is offering $28,440 to $37,800 per acre for preservation, though no deals are final yet. If the owners agree, it will still take until April at the earliest to have the deals approved by the County Council and settlements wouldn't occur until summer, said Joy Levy, the program administrator.

"All seven properties are relatively large, are being actively farmed, and have a high percentage of land already under easement nearby," county executive Ken Ulman said in an announcement. Money for the purchases comes from a dedicated fund replenished by a percentage of real estate transfer tax revenues.

Courtney Watson, the county councilwoman who represents the area containing Doughoregan, said the estate's land rated highest among all the applications submitted.

"Certainly, I hope the offer will enable the Carroll family to choose to preserve the 500 acres," she said.

In addition to the land in the county's Agricultural Land Preservation Program, Howard County also has 7,708 acres protected by environmental easements, and 11,000 acres more of state and county parkland and tracts owned by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

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