Residents living in two neighborhoods abutting the Little Patuxent River in Ellicott City fear a proposed development of 47 homes on 25 acres will destroy environmentally fragile land and possibly cause flooding in nearby areas.
The residents, who have formed a group called the Little Patuxent Preservation Association, are lobbying county officials to help them save the land. Members said they question whether the land can be developed as planned under zoning regulations regarding steep slopes and wetlands.
Kathy Black, one of the founding members of the group, said she has been frustrated by what she perceives as the county's reluctance to preserve open space in areas other than the western portion of the county. Looking at a map of the new general plan, she said, all the conservation efforts were concentrated in the west, while the county ignored fragile pieces of property in the middle and eastern sections of the county.
"Once it's gone, it's gone. We'll never get another chance to save this land," she said of the track surrounding the Little Patuxent River. "Our goal is to preserve the fragile ecosystem along the river."
The property in question is a 75-acre track that runs along the river, parallel to Font Hill Drive between Frederick Road to the north and Arjay Circle to the south.
Only 25 acres can be developed; the rest of the property lies in a flood plain. Developer Paul Miller, owner of the property, has already offered to donate to the county as open space the 50 acres he can't build on.
But preservation members say developing 47 houses on the remaining 25 acres would cause irreparable harm to the Little Patuxent River, the surrounding wetlands and varied wildlife in the area.
"It is now home to owls, deer, red fox, flying squirrels, red-shouldered hawks, groundhogs, muskrats and many songbirds. Majestic trees more than 200 years old tower in the woods," stated a newsletter distributed by the group to more than 1,000 homes in the area.
Black said development of the 25 acres would require a large section of a pine forest to be cut down. She believes the forest is essential to maintaining the area for wildlife and to prevent excessive runoff into the river.
But Richard D. Blood, supervisor of the planning review section of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said preliminary plans submitted by Miller indicate that his plans are in compliance with zoning regulations protecting wetlands. He believed that unless the current review by the Department of Public Works indicates problems will arise with storm management, the plans probably will move forward for approval.
He said the developer could get approval for the plans in six to seven months if extensive revisions are not required. If the county approves the development, members of the group say they will try to raise money to purchase the property from Miller. They already have turned to the county, asking for help in buying the land, if it comes to that. They also would seek assistance from several environmental groups, Black said.
The preservation association presented testimony during last Thursday's preliminary hearing on the county's capital and operating budgets for fiscal 1992, which begins July 1, asking that the county consider purchasing the land.
The group also plans to present testimony tonight at a hearing before the Recreation and Parks Board supporting setting aside money to buy the land.
The group thinks the land should be preserved because it connects two smaller open space areas -- Font Hill Park to the north and Gwynn Acres to the south.
Miller would not comment on whether he thought the property was environmentally fragile or whether the necessary grading would cause excessive runoff into the river.
"I'm following exactly what the county has told us to do. That's all I want to say," he said.
If the county approves Miller's plans, he expects to develop the 47 lots and sell them to builders, who would construct homes on them.
Members of the preservation group said they have asked to meet with Miller numerous times but he has not agreed to meet with them.
"We want this to be a win-win situation," said Black, adding that the group wants to see Miller compensated for the land if it is not developed.
Black estimated that the property is worth between $20,000 and $100,000 for each developable lot.
Association member Richard B. Nettler, a lawyer specializing in land use and zoning, said the group's top goal is to block development all together.
But failing that, members would at least like to see the number of lots reduced.
"There's a couple of open fields there that could probably be developed ... without hurting the Little Patuxent River," he said. "If there's development to be done, we'd like to see as little as possible."