Beneath tulip poplars and chestnut oaks Tuesday morning, Annapolitans got their first look at 25 acres of waterfront forest and farmland, tucked away off Route 2 near Annapolis Harbour Center, that will soon be a county park.
The Davis family grew corn and soybeans on the 80-acre Homeport Farm until just a few years ago, rolling tractors up and down the highway alongside mall-bound SUVs. Now, after 11 years of negotiations with zoning officials, neighbors and preservationists, this mile-long stretch of forest and fields along Church Creek will be put to a somewhat more modern use.
Twenty-nine new homes will be built on a portion of the property, five of them on the waterfront. Another piece has been donated to the county as a park. The family also has placed 31 additional acres of the farm and adjacent property in a conservation easement and saved two historic houses.
Planning for the park will begin next year, according to Dennis Callahan, county director of parks and recreation. Passive in design, the park will be planned around existing foliage, with few additions other than paved paths and roads and a place to launch kayaks and canoes into the creek, a tributary of the South River. Exactly when the park will open, and at what cost, remain to be determined, but the land may be opened to the public for water access later this year, Callahan said.
"It's 25 acres of serene paradise," said Dee Davis, a family member by marriage, speaking to guests on the property Tuesday morning at a ceremony marking the donation of the land to the county. "It's just a perfect location for a park."
The Homeport property took shape in 1839, when it was purchased by Robert Welch from among the larger land holdings of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Welches sold the land to the Duvall family in 1867, by which time it was part of a community known as New Salem. It was then purchased in 1930 by Leslie Charles Davis, who named the property Homeport. A 1908 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Davis sailed with the Great White Fleet, a 14-month grand show of American sea power sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt, according to the family. He later commanded the destroyer USS Pruitt.
"He had kind of lived with his parents in Baltimore, and then he was always traveling on a ship, so he really didn't have a home," said Davis, whose husband is the grandson of Leslie Charles Davis.
The family decided to develop the property 11 years ago, Davis said: "We were surrounded by suburbia, and farming north of the South River Bridge in that area just became impractical."
She and her husband, Derek, are the only remaining members of the family in the area.
Most of the farm falls within the environmentally protected Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, where development is limited. In 1997, the county allocated 19 acres of protected land within Homeport for development. In exchange, the family agreed to set aside part of the property for public use, a valuable asset to the county in a fast-developing area. Final legal approval didn't come until this spring.
"It's probably been one of the most scrutinized projects in the history of Anne Arundel County," said David Plott, attorney for the family. "If Homeport Farm were a book, I think it would be called 'The Odyssey.' "
Leaders of the South River Federation, which fought the project for years, have made peace with it and applaud the family for setting aside large portions of their land for preservation.
"It's in a location where it kind of makes sense to develop it," said Drew Koslow, a former president of the federation. "It's an amazing piece of property. You walk through these woods and it feels like a green cathedral. It gives you a sense of what it used to be like."