Beating a Path Through Open Space

Saving the Last Farm on the Magothy, my November 4 column, brought lots of interesting mail that sent me down a broader path through the Preservation Woods.

Lucy Illif, who owns one of the few remaining farms in Arnold, reminded me that the Jordan Property next to Ritchie Highway has just been rezoned commercial and that the whole area is being swallowed up by houses and shopping malls.

“Will our farm now be the last one in Arnold?” she wondered.

This opened up an old wound for me. When I chaired the Broadneck Small Area Planning Committee about a dozen years ago, the Jordan Property rezoning was the flashpoint issue.

The Jordan family has lived just past the Arnold Road intersection for many years. Jordan, the guy who sells Christmas trees in the field in front of his house, can remember when Ritchie Highway wasn’t paved. As a small boy, I marveled at the ponies grazing along the busy highway that links Baltimore and Annapolis. He helped start the Greater Arnold Recreation Council, and his roots in the community go deep.  

As Arnold and Severna Park grew, Jordan held onto his farm and watched in dismay as other farms vanished to make way for progress. Today, his little homestead is surrounded by the Arnold Shopping Center on one side and a veterinary hospital on the other, with cars zipping by on the busy highway right outside his door.

Jordan probably should have sold his farm a long time ago. He eventually found himself sitting on a residential property that no one in their right mind would build a house on.

I felt sorry for him, but highway access in and out of the property would have been dangerous, so as chairman I voted against giving him commercial zoning.

But Illif brings up an excellent point, and one that all of Southern Maryland is struggling with. As farms give way to more and more development, what will be left in the end?


The Forest Deepens

The next e-mail I received took the argument to the next level. Nick Williams, formerly with the Biophilia Foundation, wrote the following in regards to the Spriggs Property on the Magothy. “Is this the wisest use of Program Open Space and Land and Water Conservation Fund money, given all the other opportunities in Maryland? By what targeting criteria does a 60-acre parcel, surrounded by suburbia, disconnected from its original ecosystem, with visible erosion problems along the creek, rise to the top?”

Several years ago, the state and county began an inventory of open space and established criteria for each parcel’s natural resource value. Money for purchasing green space was tight, and the goal was to create bullet-proof standards for justifying each purchase. Politics would be removed from the mix, and no one would be able to question why one person’s farm or woodland was bought instead of another. It made perfect sense from a scientific and financial standpoint: maximize the public return and benefit.

But this can get tricky. I am reminded of a property purchased many years ago with state money. It was between old Parole Plaza and what was then the brand new Harbour Center. There once was a freshwater spring that fed what has now become a tiny, beaten-down, wetland forest storm drain that flows into the South River. Why on earth would the state spend big bucks to purchase such a wasteland? For the same amount of money, in St. Mary’s County hundreds of acres of land on the Potomac River could have been purchased. Wouldn’t that be a better use of the taxpayers’ money?


The Heart of the Forest

Here’s the heart of the forest. If Smart Growth means putting future development into designated growth areas, like Annapolis, where there is public water, sewer and roads, then we are at a certain level establishing these places as sacrifice areas. We are, in essence, saying, Let’s save the rural areas and preserve them in their natural state at the expense of what little natural beauty remains in and around Annapolis.

Like it or not, only the crumbs remain around Arnold and Annapolis. But they still have real value for our quality of life and can teach us valuable lessons. They will always cost more money to buy and be less desirable than some pristine place in the middle of nowhere. But we urban and suburban folks need them just the same.

By preserving the last remnants of natural wonder between the Towne Centre at Parole and Harbour Center, we saved a place where frogs and turtles can still survive in the wild. When people take their children to a free summer concert over by the Farmers’ Market, the kids are captivated by the painted turtles sunning themselves at the surface of the storm pond wetland. That reminds us all that nature is important — and that we cannot live without it.

The Last Farm on the Magothy: