Two hundred Severn School students and teachers have signed a petition blasting the county's planning and zoning office for preliminary approval of a building permit that may allow a home to be built in a marsh behind the private school.
The petition says "a terrible precedent is being set" and calls for the county to retract its decision.
The permit is to build a three-story house on 8-foot piles 75 feet from the banks of Sullivan's Cove. It was not ruled a violation of the county's critical areas legislation because that marsh area was designated as a buildable lot before the law passed, said James Cannelli, assistant director of the Office of Planning and Zoning.
The permit still must be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, theagency charged with preventing loss of wetlands. The corps decision is due next month.
"You have to think about what's happening now, not 20 years ago," said Emily Skop, the Severn senior who founded theschool's environmental club last year. Skop said most of the Severn River's marshland already has been lost, and if the remaining parcelsare taken, the river's health is in danger.
But Cannelli said thecounty has to consider individual property rights as well as the environmental impact of the proposal.
"I don't think we are in disagreement as to our goals. We're interested in preserving wetlands, too.What we're doing is protecting as much as we can without confiscating land from people," Cannelli said.
The county's critical areas legislation prevents development within the 100-year non-tidal flood plain, but only applies to new subdivisions, Cannelli said.
The petition asks, "does the term 'critical areas' mean anything in the real world?"
The petition goes on to state that "Most of the county's critical areas are marshes and the applications (to build on them) will most likely be for single unit jobs like this one."
Marjorie Pearsall, a Severn biology and ecology teacher who serves as faculty adviser for the club, ridiculed the county's interpretation of the law.
"If its grandfathered, then un-grandfather it. It's like finding acase of cigarettes owned by your grandfather before all the warningscame out and saying it's O.K. to smoke them now," Pearsall said.
The applicant for the permit, F. L. Codd, is a 1969 graduate of the Severn School and an officer in the Severn School alumni association. He did not return phone calls yesterday.
Severn spokeswoman June Shepherd said the petition has caused some confusion among people who incorrectly perceive that the school is opposing Codd's plan.
She said the petition "does not represent a policy of Severn School. It'sjust the environmental club that feels very strongly about this cause, and we feel it's appropriate for them to voice their opinion."