State, county indirectly funded luxury development
Staff Writer, as published in THE SUNDAY STAR DEMOCRAT
August 26, 2007 

GRASONVILLE — Rolling woods, open fields, four miles of shoreline, private beaches, a historic manor house, a private airfield. All located on a section of a scenic 1,500-acre estate. Price: $19 million.

It sounds great, and the pictures are even better. This is Talisman Farm, as advertised by Annapolis Realty, Inc. This estate is not an option for pikers; Annapolis Realty is an “exclusive affiliate” of Christie’s Great Estates, the broker of mansions to millionaires.

One of the designs for Talisman Farm, posted on the Web site for the Delaware-based Element Design Group, advertises an “800-acre exclusive timeshare community.”

This waterfront property is part of the former Kudner estate, purchased by the for-profit U.S. Land Alliance last year. The U.S. Land Alliance — or, rather, Talisman Farm East Enterprises, an affiliated limited liability company — initially put down $10,000 in 2006 to purchase about 1,500 acres selling for $17,750,000. 

The state then paid $4.6 million of Program Open Space funds for an inland 271-acre inland parcel of this estate in July. Queen Anne’s County, which now owns the parcel, contributed $400,000 to the purchase. State and county officials said they wanted to preserve the land from development.

Two appraisals for the property differed by $1 million — the low appraisal at $3.6 million, and the high appraisal at $4.6 million. The state and county together paid $400,000 more than the highest appraisal. 

This tract has four percolation sites, and three of those are grandfathered and would not pass today’s standards, according to county health department records. Health department records also show the land has severe limitations for waste disposal because of a seasonal high water table near the surface of the ground.

Initially, there was talk of extending water and sewer to the area when the U.S. Land Alliance promoted the construction of a sports complex on the land; when that plan fell through, the water and sewer talk also faded away.

To sum up: The state and county paid a combined $5 million — during a major state budget crunch — for land without waterfront access and with limited development potential, while the U.S. Land Alliance, on an initial investment of $10,000, put the best part of the estate on the market for $19 million as a luxury getaway for the rich.

The catch: Talisman Farm is protected under a permanent conservation easement administered by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and the Maryland Environmental Trust. Under the provisions of the easement, some of the changes to the estate called for in the plans would require permission from both of those land preservation entities.

Talisman Farm contains a main farmhouse and seven smaller houses. The easement allows for the replacement of the eight houses. The houses could even be moved or possibly made larger, but no more than eight houses could be built there, according to Meredith Lathbury, director of land conservation for the ESLC.

If the locations of the eight houses were moved, the boards of both conservation groups would have to approve the changes, according to John Hutson, easement planner and easement program manager for the MET. The existing homes, however, could be razed and rebuilt on a much larger scale without any approval, according to Hutson; these modifications, however, would also have to comply with Maryland Critical Area law. 

The plans for Talisman Farm are not new; they are dated Feb. 20, 2007. The company that prepared them, the Element Design Group, is based in Lewes, Del. The company also has a Kent Island office — at 208 Pier One Road, which is the same address for the U.S. Land Alliance.

David Sutherland, president of the U.S. Land Alliance, has been evasive in phone interviews about his plans for Talisman Farm tract. But the dates on these designs show that the U.S. Land Alliance had very definite intentions for this land for at least six months, and for probably much longer.

What is not clear is whether state officials knew of these plans (which were posted on the Web) when they were confronted with the option of paying $4.6 million to a company that could then use that money to invest in a waterfront development for the wealthy.

Sutherland did not return phone messages left Saturday. 

There may be further state business with the U.S. Land Alliance. The state is appraising about 620 acres of the former Kudner land, on the north side of Perry’s Corner Road, for a possible state-purchased conservation easement. This purchase, if it were to occur, would, like the previous 271-acre deal, have to be approved by the state Board of Public Works — Gov. Martin O’Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp, and Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Franchot, in an Aug. 17 interview, said he had serious misgivings about the initial Kudner purchase as well as any upcoming funding proposal.

“Program Open Space should not be a profit engine for private developers,” he said. 
On the Web:

be sure to read this too:  U.S. Land Alliance has extensive political, business, nonprofit links   

State rolls out land preservation criteria

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