- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

BRYANS ROAD, Md. (AP) — The view across the Potomac from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate will remain pristine, as it was more than 200 years ago, thanks in part to a purchase of 63 acres by the National Park Service on the banks of the river.

The purchase, announced yesterday, conserves the last major block of shoreline on the Maryland side of the river that can be seen from Mount Vernon.

At a ceremony yesterday on the Maryland side of the river, Mount Vernon Executive Director James C. Rees said the view is one of Mount Vernon’s most valuable assets and makes a tremendous impression on the 1 million annual visitors.

“There’s nothing more special to us than protecting that view,” Mr. Rees said.

The complicated transaction began in 2005, when a private landowner listed 73 acres for sale in Charles County, on the Southern Maryland shore across from the estate.

Mount Vernon wanted to ensure that the land was not turned into housing developments, and inquired about whether the National Park Service would be interested in purchasing the land and annexing it to Piscataway Park, an existing national park that protects more than 5,000 acres along the shore.

The Park Service was interested, but could not reach a deal quickly enough. So Mount Vernon bought the land to protect it while a final deal could be put into place.

However, the Park Service was not interested in maintaining a restored 18th-century farmhouse on the land, so a search began for a private homeowner interested in buying a portion of the land on the condition of forgoing the development rights.

Tim and Liz Cullen became those homeowners in late 2005 after responding to what Mr. Cullen described as an intriguing ad in the real estate classifieds for a unique waterfront parcel.

“We first began looking for a little place on the water,” Mr. Cullen said. “We were sucked in on our first visit” on a fall day when the Cullens saw herons rising from the still water as they approached the lot from a long, winding dirt road.

The Cullens eventually agreed to buy the home and 10 acres, which will be preserved and maintained by the Park Service. The Park Service, using federal money, is buying the other 63 acres and incorporating it into Piscataway Park.

The entire deal cost about $2.8 million, with the Cullens paying $1.9 million for their 10 acres and the Park Service buying the rest for $900,000. For Mount Vernon, the deal was essentially a break-even proposition, Mr. Rees said.

Mount Vernon has a history of working to preserve the estate’s views. In the 1950s, when plans were proposed for an oil tank farm nearby, a regent from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association bought the 500 acres in question.

Piscataway Park was created after another development threat in 1960, when the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission announced plans to build a sewage treatment plant across from the estate.

While nearly all of the shoreline is now protected, Mr. Rees said, housing developments could spoil the view if they are built without careful planning on certain high spots along the border of Prince George’s and Charles counties.

A few miles up the river, the massive $4 billion National Harbor development is one of the largest projects of its kind on the East Coast and could reshape development patterns in the area, Mr. Rees said.

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