Howard County is preserving 662 more acres of farmland from development, including a key 500-acre chunk of historic Doughoregan Manor — the second-largest block of land to enter preservation in the history of the county's Agricultural Preservation program.
Another 107-acre farm in Woodbine is set for a County Council preservation vote this month.
The Doughoregan move is part of a complex deal with county officials that would allow the Carroll family, owners of the estate since Colonial times, to develop 325 new homes clustered in the northeast corner of the 892-acre estate and preserve nearly all the rest of the land. The county would get 36 acres to expand Kiwanis Wallas Park at the northeast tip of the property on Frederick Road.
To do that, the County Council has already agreed to extend water and sewer lines to the 221-acre development parcel, and the county zoning board is considering a rezoning to allow the new homes. The deal also requires a council vote July 29 on an agreement cementing all the pieces of the arrangement together.
The deal will cost the county about $19 million, plus interest, over 20 years. The money comes from property transfer taxes.
The council unanimously approved the addition of the Doughoregan land to the county's Agricultural Preservation program Tuesday night, along with a nearby 162-acre farm owned by Marshall Rea at 4979 Sheppard Lane in western Ellicott City.
Although some nearby residents are critical of the deal, several council members hailed the move as they voted. The property lies between Route 108 and Frederick Road, west of Centennial Lane.
"This is the second-largest acquisition in [the program's] 26-year history, and it's located adjacent to the largest. It is very significant," Chairwoman Courtney Watson said. A 717-acre parcel across Folly Quarter Road entered the program in 1995, officials said. Another 680 acres of adjacent land is also in preservation. Watson, a Democrat, represents the area that includes Doughoregan. The historic estate is the only home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence still in family hands.
"I am with great pleasure voting for this," added Mary Kay Sigaty, a west Columbia Democrat who said she has ties to farming through her extended family in South Dakota. The two new preserved parcels provide "a good deal of incentive to farmers to not grow houses," but to raise needed food crops instead, she said, when the Rea farm came up for a vote.
County planning director Marsha McLaughlin, who also attended the council meeting, said she was "thrilled," from an agricultural and a historical preservation perspective.
Camilla Carroll, who lives on the nearly 300-year-old estate, is a direct descendant of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Doughoregan once occupied more than 10,000 acres.
Camilla Carroll and other family members maintain they need the money from the preservation rights along with the millions more dollars they will receive from the development to restore the large mansion and dozens of other buildings, and keep their property in family hands.
But Victor Ilenda, president of the Chateau Ridge Lake Community Association, complained that the vote shut off any other possible arrangement, to the detriment of his community along the estate's eastern border west of Centennial Lane.
"The selection of a specific portion of the estate for preservation effectively boxed out many alternative proposals," he said after the vote. Ilenda and others are worried the new homes concentrated in the northeast corner just south of Frederick Road will bring more traffic congestion and wastewater treatment problems.
The council also voted unanimously to allow Ricky Bauer of Dayton to remove 875 square feet of his family's 122-acre farm from the Agricultural Preservation program to allow construction of a 145-foot-tall silo that would also have cell phone antennas inside the structure's dome.
Neighbors of upscale homes next to the farm have opposed any cell tower facility for T-Mobile, which is also seeking to erect cell towers in other western county locations.
In a last-minute effort to satisfy critics, the council amended the resolution to require that the antennae be inside the silo dome, and restricted the height to no more than 145 feet. Despite that, residents of the Big Branch Community Association pressed for a three-week delay in the vote to see if they could get Bauer to move the silo farther from their homes.
After the vote, Bauer said, "I think it was supportive of agriculture in Howard County."
The council also approved a heavily amended bill designed to remove conflicts between county and state law on petition referendums, making it slightly easier to challenge a county law by getting enough signatures to put an issue on the election ballot. The bill was sponsored by Watson and Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican.
Also Tuesday, council members introduced new legislation ranging from bills on Columbia downtown redevelopment to zoning measures to allow wineries and home wind turbines in Howard County. Those bills will be considered this month, before the body's annual August hiatus.
The four Columbia bills would alter the county's growth-control laws to allow for the higher density anticipated in a more urban town center as the three-decade plan takes shape. They would change standards for traffic and for building designs.
Other proposals on the ambitious late-July agenda include the measure intended to help seal the Doughoregan deal and a bill designed to allow a private club to build a regional tennis competition facility in what will become Troy Hill Park in Elkridge.
Another bill would pave the way for a solar energy facility at the closed New Cut landfill in Ellicott City that would provide power for nearby Worthington Elementary School. The council is also to approve a new housing allocation chart and school enrollment projection chart for 2013 under the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance used to postpone development around schools projected at over 115 percent of capacity.
A public hearing on all the bills will be held July 19 at school board headquarters on Route 108, and final votes are scheduled for 4:30 p.m. July 29 in the same place.