Monday, February 20, 2006

Battle of Belmont (continued)

Howard Community College continues to get pounded by neighbors of the Belmont estate in Elkridge.

The college was branded as "evasive," "arrogant," "secretive" and "dishonest" during testimony before the Planning Board last week on its request for $3 million in public funds to help finance its ambitious expansion plans in Elkridge.

Two-thirds of the money would be used to acquire two adjoining properties totaling 82 acres, including the 68-acre, 268-year-old Belmont mansion and conference center.

...The $3 million the college is seeking from the county would not cover the full price for the property, and it will request additional funding in the future, he said.

The college plans to spend $1 million renovating the carriage house, which would include a modern, professional kitchen to serve its culinary students and guests at the conference center.

Residents are wary of over-development on the site, as they should be given it's proximity to Patapsco Valley State Park. They may also have a point with their critique of HCC's handling of this situation, but not being completely immersed in the matter, it's hard for me to know whether words like "evasive," "arrogant," and "dishonest" really apply.

But, there's also this to consider:
The estate is surrounded by 10,000 acres of Patapsco Valley State Park forest. The property was acquired in 2004 by the Howard Community College Educational Foundation, a private entity that operates outside the college.

"It was the intent from the beginning that the college would acquire the estate from the foundation," Randy Bengfort, the college's director of public relations and marketing, said in an interview.

...While acknowledging the college "probably made some mistakes" in its handling of the issue, another member of the public, David Terry, defended the request for funding.

He said the foundation stepped in and "acquired [the property] in a rush" to assist the college.

Bengfort confirmed that notion. "The sale opportunity was out of the budget cycle," he said, and the college needed the foundation's immediate help to prevent the property from being acquired by someone else.

What if the property was bought by another entity -- one without public oversight? What if it was bought by developers, who would surely have found ways to building something -- possibly houses -- less acceptable to the local community? Although HCC may not have the best public relations, at least they're forced to have some.

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