Despite overwhelming opposition from the public, the Queen Anne County Commission on Tuesday voted 3-2 in favor of moving ahead with a massive waterfront housing development on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay.
The county’s approval of a revised development agreement for the Four Seasons project means the proposed subdivision will head back to the Maryland Board of Public Works for reconsideration of a wetlands permit.
In 2007, the state board, led by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, denied a wetlands permit for New Jersey-based Hovnanian Enterprises to build 1,350 homes on the site, 556 acres of farmland and trees beside the Chester River north of Route 50 in Stevensville. But then the Maryland Court of Appeals last year overturned the state’s denial, saying the board had considered too broad a range of issues -– and was legally required to focus only on the question of whether wetlands could be destroyed.
The state board, in turn, referred the decision back down to the county level.
The developers slightly trimmed the size of the proposal, to 1,079 homes on 425 acres, with a 131 acre park. And it was this revised proposal that the Queen Anne County Commissioners approved this week, sending it back to the state. No date has yet been set for a new vote on the wetlands permit by the Maryland Board of Public Works.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, and many local residents oppose the project because of the polluted runoff it would add to the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the traffic congestion that would grow on local roads. Other groups opposing Four Seasons include the Kent Island Defense League, Chester River Association, Citizens' Watch-Queen Anne's County, Kent Island Beach Cleanup, and Queen's Landing Homeowners for Transparency.
The project would pile more suburban sprawl on an already crowded island. Four Seasons is a classic example of poor planning -- a massive housing development proposed for farmland that is likely to impose hidden costs on local residents, in the form of higher taxes for roads, sewers, and infrastructure. And the new homes are likely to flood, in part because of rising sea levels and sinking land on Kent Island.
During a Sept. 17 public hearing that drew more than 500 people, about 75 percent of the speakers urged the county to “say no” to Four Seasons.
One of those speaking out against the development was Will Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He said that EPA’s 2010 pollution limits for the estuary and the state plans to meet those limits (called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint) should mean a re-evaluation and denial of the Four Seasons project.
“We are required as a society to reduce pollution in the rivers and creeks and Chesapeake Bay, not increase pollution,” Baker told the audience. “One inch of rain, falling on one acre of paved surface, produces 30,000 gallons of polluted runoff. We cannot add more pollution to the rivers and streams.”
You can view a video of his entire remarks here.
The ball is now once again in the state’s court. We can only hope that state officials think long and hard before approving a wetlands permit for this ill-conceived and highly unpopular project.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation