In a deal some say could be a model for government land preservation in lean budget times, a wealthy businessman and former Anne Arundel County politician has agreed to give up development rights -- and grant limited but free public access -- to a 950-acre former wildlife sanctuary on the Eastern Shore that he bought 18 months ago.
Robert A. Pascal, a former county executive and state senator, has offered to donate a permanent conservation easement to the state on the former duPont family hunting preserve near Bozman in Talbot County. In return for undisclosed but likely sizable tax breaks, Pascal surrendered his right to build homes on Point Pleasant Farm, a former National Audubon Society sanctuary which boasts eight miles of shoreline.
“It would be a tragedy to develop it,” said Pascal, 77, who owns St. Michaels Harbour Inn and Marina and is an investor in Baltimore’s Harbor East development. Pascal said he wanted to continue using the Bozman farm, where he occasionally stays in the main house and exercises his Labrador retrievers, but also to open it up for hunting and fishing parties and school field trips.
“I just think it ought to be shared as much as possible with as many people as you can,” he said.
Pascal said he didn’t know yet the size of the federal and state income tax breaks he would get for the easement, which the state Board of Public Works will be asked Wednesday to approve. According to a brief blurb on the board’s online agenda, he will be giving up the right to build up to 44 homes on the property.
But Pascal said he believed it’s a good deal for taxpayers, since the state pays nothing directly to preserve it or use it for recreation and he continues to cover upkeep on the property.
“Some people would have asked for cash and the easement,” he said. “That’s not what I want to do. I can afford it, and I’d like to enjoy it, too, and share it.”
John R. Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, called the farm “a great piece of property” and noted that there had been anxiety for the past few years over its fate, since the Audubon Society put it up for sale three years ago.
The society had been given the former hunting preserve in 1997 by Jean Ellen duPont Shehan, and kept it for 13 years as a wildlife sanctuary open to the public on certain weekends. But funds Shehan had given to maintain the tract ran dry, and the society said it could no longer afford the annual $500,000 upkeep, and wanted to focus its resources on other properties.
Audubon and other preservationists urged the state to buy it, but natural resources officials declined, saying they lacked the funds and had other priorities for land preservation. While the farm’s meadows, wetlands and woods teem with deer, birds and other wildlife, the tract harbors no rare plants or animals or other distinctive ecological features.
Pascal bought the farm in July 2010 for an undisclosed sum. With six old houses and outbuildings on it, the property had been assessed for nearly $8.6 million in 2008, but was marked down to $7.2 million in a reassessment this year. Some had speculated the property might go for up to $18 million.
Though Pascal declined to give up the development rights when he bought it, he swore then he had no plans to put houses on it.
Griffin said Pascal contacted him some time ago about making the farm a model of conservation practices. The DNR secretary said he assigned staff to work with the landowner on various projects, including arranging some limited group hunting parties there.
“One thing led to another,” Griffin added, and Pascal offered an easement. Though not unique ecologically, the natural resources secretary said, preserving such a large tract for wildlife habitat and opening it up for even limited public use fits with Chesapeake Bay restoration goals.