In the shadow of the largest development ever planned along Marley Creek, neighbors are fighting a pitched backyard battle over a property that's only half a percent its size.
A half-dozen residents of Marley Park Beach petitioned the county's zoning administrator yesterday to deny plans for 15 clustered town homes on eight acres off Forest Road.
Arguing that construction would destroy a fragile coastal area, the neighbors protested what they termed an attempt to "shoe-horn in" as many houses as possible on a small slice of land.
They also charged that the developer, Joel T. Broyhill, is trying to slip his small project through on the coattails of CSX Realty, the Howard County company planning a 2,272-unit community three miles down the creek.
"We worked closely with that developer," Karen Schmidt, one of the neighbors fighting the clustered town house proposal, said of CSX. "A lot of work went into protecting the environment."
Schmidt, who lives at the intersection of Forest and Ridge roads, said she believes Broyhill's proposal would be the final straw in damaging a "sick creek."
"I think it will destroy more of Marley Creek," agreed her neighbor, Andre Francois, who recalled swimming in the stream when he was a child.
Pollution problems have forced the county Health Department to post signs banning water sports there since 1979.
"Year after year, a developer comes in and says, 'We're not going to contaminate it,' " Francois complained. "Now you can almost walk across it, and the stench is unbearable."
Neighbors, who talked about closing their windows on hot summer days to avoid the odor, said they were far less upset by Tanyard Cove -- even though it would be 150 times the size of Broyhill's townhouse proposal.
CSX Realty cleared a key hurdle last month when county officials granted special zoning to develop 610 acres on the banks of Marley Creek, near Fort Smallwood Road and Marley Neck Boulevard.
Project manager Patrick Dougal credited the smooth, quiet approval to five years of meeting with neighbors and working with environmental consultants.
"I do attribute our success so far to being able to communicate with the people there," he said. "They're very, very concerned about the environment. We have a lot of critical areas throughout our project -- steep slopes and other sensitive features -- so we spent a lot of money getting the right consultants to plan for this."
The developer agreed to comply with Maryland's critical-area legislation, which was passed in 1984 to protect the shoreline. CSX also promised to set aside 10 acres as a dump site for muck if the state dredges Marley Creek.
Before the developer can start building the single-family houses, town houses, apartments and community center, the county must approve subdividing the land into neighborhoods, a process that could take another two years of planning and review.
Margaret D. Brown, president of the Marley Area Improvement Association, pointed to the CSX project as a reason to veto building 15 more town homes.
She suggested that Broyhill instead sell his land to the county for open space.
"I don't feel that 15 more town homes are necessary," said Brown, who submitted a petition signed by 39 other neighbors opposing the cluster development.
Representatives for Broyhill disputed claims that the project would disturb the environment. Gary T. Westholme, an Annapolis attorney representing the developer, argued that the blueprints were designed to avoid damaging wetlands and steep slopes on the shore.
He also said the neighbors' concerns were motivated more by a "NIMBY," or not in my backyard, reaction to town homes than by fears for the environment.
Although county planner Richard Josephson agreed that the environmental impact would be minimal, he recommended denying the zoning variances because the developer didn't prove a public need for 15 more town homes.
Broyhill needs an exemption to build town houses in an R-5 district, a variance to develop a clustered project on less than 10 acres, and another variance to build an entrance road across a buffer covered by the critical areas act.