Almost 500 people packed a public hearing last night to voice their opinions about a proposed 1,079-home waterfront development on Kent Island that would pave fields and forests and add pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.
About three quarters of the 50 speakers at Kent Island High School said they oppose the Four Seasons project on 425 acres of farmland beside the Chester River, north of Route 50 in Stevensville, Maryland.
Local residents said they worry about runoff pollution, flooding from sea level rise, traffic jams on an already congested island road system, inadequate fire and ambulance service, and a perception that local government is more focused on quick money from construction than the long-term quality of life for Kent Island voters.
“We’ve made our opinions known on many occasions, and yet we don’t seem to be getting answers,” complained Mark Nitkoski of Stevensville. “We recognize clearly the need to save the Bay. We
recognize clearly the need for our wildlife to have a home. And we don’t want to see our way of life ruined.”
On the other side of the argument over the massive development project, the New Jersey-based Hovnanian Enterprises development company, the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce, and their supporters argued the county should move ahead with the long-debated project because it will mean money for local businesses and construction jobs.
“There is no business on Kent Island that would not benefit from this community,” Patrick McNeally, a vice president of Hovnanian, told the crowd.
In 2002, former members of the Queen Anne’s County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve a 1,350 home development on the farmland. These three commissioners were voted out of office by local residents, many of whom were angry because they felt they had been promised a development about a third this size.
In 2007, the state Board of Public Works denied a state permit to allow destruction of wetlands for the Four Seasons project. But this decision was overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals last year.
The developers revised their initial plan, by proposing to take 131 acres on which they had planned 271 homes and turn this portion of the land into a public park. In August, the state board sent the changed plan back down to the county level for another round of review.
Opponents of Four Seasons argue that the Board of County Commissioners should now reconsider the whole project and vote a second time on the altered plan (which also includes a change to a bridge). New information about sea level rise, flooding of waterfront areas, and EPA pollution limits for the Bay have become available since the county’s 2002 approval, and should now be taken into consideration, advocates argue.
Will Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 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, describing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. “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.”
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.
“This out of state developer has a long, long history … of environmental violations,” Baker told the crowd. “What in the world would want us to bring a developer like that onto Kent Island?”
The audience cheered.
Four Seasons would be one of the largest projects ever built within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay since the 1984 passage of Maryland’s landmark Critical Areas law, which is supposed to protect environmentally fragile waterfront areas.
“What is a ‘critical area’ then?” demanded Hal Fisher, another local resident and opponent of the project. “It is beyond me that 32 multi-story (condo) buildings could be build along the shoreline here.”
“This is just a horrendous idea,” Stan Ruddie, a Kent Island resident. “They are going to pave over most of these hundreds of acres….The community just can’t handle this density of development.”
Suzi Elasik, of Queen Anne’s Landing, said she is fearful of traffic jams trying to get off the island in case of a major storm. “We are going to have 2,000 more cars,” she said of the new subdivision.
“What happens when there is an emergency? How will we get out?”
“The people of Kent Island have been snookered!” proclaimed Jim Ireland, of Chester. “Unsnooker this!” he told the county commissioners in the audience.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photos by Tom Pelton and Loren Barnett, Chesapeake Bay Foundation)