Regional Governments Plan New Bay Cleanup Agreement
Governor Pushes More Clean Energy and Mass Transit

Waterfront Mega Development is Back, Despite Violations by Builder

Map of Four SeasonsMore than 1,000 new homes are proposed in an environmentally critical area beside the Chesapeake Bay, on Kent Island, in Maryland.

The developer of the proposed Four Seasons project, the New Jersey-based  Hovnanian Enterprises, is promising to be responsible about handling stormwater pollution that will pour off the huge waterfront project. But three years ago, Hovnanian was forced to pay a $1 million fine to EPA because of stormwater violations at 591 development sites, including 161 in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, according to the federal agency.

The development on the small, increasingly crowded island doesn’t make sense –- from an environmental perspective, or from a planning viewpoint. Kent Island is already overwhelmed with sprawl, and the low-lying development site next to the mouth of the Chester River is vulnerable to flooding, especially with sea level rise.

A more than decade-long war over the Four Seasons project flared up again yesterday at the Maryland Board of Public Works.  After hearing more than five hours of testimony, Governor Martin O’Malley and state officials sent the project back down to the Queen Anne’s County to resolve questions about land preservation and permitting before the state will consider a license to destroy wetlands for the construction.

Baker testifyingWill Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (right), was among several people who advised the board not to approve the wetlands license. “We work in six states at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Maryland has always been a leader,” Baker said.  “But I don’t know of any other state that has a project of this scope, and importance, and potential damage to the Bay or its tributary rivers.”

O'Malley and board of public worksThe three-member board (made up of the governor, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp) was forced to reconsider a wetlands license for the project yesterday because the Maryland Court of Appeals last year overturned a 2007 decision by the board to deny approval of the license.

That 2-1 vote by O’Malley and Franchot six years ago against the Four Seasons project was hailed by many environmentalists as an impressive sign of the green credentials of the two then newly-elected officials.

After losing that vote, the developers modified the project to reduce its size.  The project discussed by the board yesterday was 1,079 homes on 425 acres of what is now farm fields north of Route 50 in Stevensville, instead of the 1,350 homes on 556 acres as proposed back in 2007.  And the developers also claim they will eliminate a bridge to reduce the project’s harm to wetlands, and create a 131-acre park on part of the land where they once planned houses.

“We appreciate the downsizing of this,” O’Malley said.  “But how do we know there won’t be a bait and switch?”  with the developer later deciding to allow construction on the park site, the governor asked.

“It’s good faith,” said Charles Schaller, an attorney for Hovnanian.

That wasn’t good enough for O’Malley or the rest of the board. They said they would not vote on the question of disturbing wetlands until the county and developer agree to put an easement on the park land to protect it permanently, and take other steps to resolve local permitting and planning issues raised yesterday by local protesters and environmentalists.

Kopp said that it would be wiser to build such a large housing project farther away from the water, in an area less vulnerable to flooding and sea-level rise.  “It shouldn’t be there,” Kopp said.  But the treasurer added that the Court of Appeals had ordered the Board of Public Works to keep a narrow focus on consideration of a state license to destroy 820 square feet of wetlands for the project, not the overall merits of the project or its location.

“I agree. It shouldn’t be there,” O’Malley said.  “But that’s not what’s before us.”

Jay FalstadJay Falstad, Executive Director of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association (right), said he is glad that the  board did not approve the wetlands permit yesterday, as the developers had requested.

“We think this is certainly a step in the right direction,” Falstad said.  “The Board of Public Works asked some very hard questions today of the developer.   We think this thorough analysis is good for everyone, particularly for the residents on Kent Island.  We welcome greater transparency and more understanding of what this project is all about.”

The Queen Anne’s Conservation Association brought three attorneys to yesterday’s hearing, and each testified about problems with the developer’s proposal.

One of those lawyers, Rosemary Green, told state officials that Hovnanian’s record of stormwater violations suggests the developer will likely not do a good job of following through with its new promises to build the project in an ecologically sensitive way.

“We know that Hovnanian has a longstanding, widespread history of stormwater discharge violations,” Green said.  “We feel there’s enough information right now to deny the permit.”

A date for the state board’s reconsideration of the issue has not yet been set, as deliberations now move back to the local Queen Anne’s County government.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Comments

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COMMON SENSE,JUST SAY NO

We need our wetlands more then ever right now. Our waters are more then polluted and our efforts to cleaning it up will be down the drain. We need to start focusing on what we have left and that is what we have left of our wetlands that hold our jewels including our wildlife, crabs, fish ect that lay their eggs and raise their young in these wetlands. Wetlands are their home and our fruit and filter in helping clean up our Bay. Please do not take anymore of our very few we have left. "Our wetlands are more valuable then a couple of houses that will fall apart down the road and forgot about. Our wetlands will live far more then us and has been for thousands of years as our buffers in protecting our fruits/ jewels.. What makes the Chesapeake Bay such a beautiful place to see and live..

Amen!

Whatever happened to "Save the Bay"? All these money grubbers make me sick.. Come on Maryland, O'Malley and all the rest...JUst say NO..!!

Well, and the sad part is, Cathy, that sprawling development projects like this on the waterfront -- in the long run -- will only reduce the amount of money flowing into our region. Employers want to move to areas that are physically beautiful -- not generic suburbs with bacteria beaches and blacktop vistas. Real estate is more valuable when it is surrounded by well-protected forests and fields -- not the suburbs of Cleveland. So what they are after is quick cash for themselves, not a well-balanced economy for everyone.

Sorry, but this development proposal is small when compared with the disaster of a comprehensive plan that is set to be passed in Charles County (a plan which is ironically named for the development lobby that lobbied for it, the Balanced Growth Initiative).

Charles County's growth plan will eat up 88,000 acres of some of the most sensitive environmental land in Maryland.

WATCH this new 30-second video that will leave you howling at what's going in Charles County -- https://vimeo.com/71025348#

I've been watching reading and watching programs on how Global Warming will effect all areas all over the world and personally rebuilding on the Chesapeake Bay is not a good idea!!

Are these people nuts? Global warming is already making the oceans rise. There is no sense building anywhere near the CB. I hope the building permit is never granted.

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