The head of a gubernatorial commission says he will appoint a special panel to study the state's plans to develop Black Marsh, 1,310 acres of unspoiled land in eastern Baltimore County.
John C. North II, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, made his decision yesterday after hearing from both sides of the controversy -- the Coalition to Preserve Black Marsh and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
North also said that commission will hold a public hearing on the matter in Baltimore County before it makes any decision regarding Black Marsh.
The hearing was held at St. Mary's College in St. Mary's City in Southern Maryland.
The state wants to build an amphitheater, nature center, a concession stand and a 150-space parking lot on Black Marsh near where it fronts on the bay.
Preservationists want the huge tract of unspoiled woodlands, marshland, meadows and beachfront to remain as is.
The commission, a 26-member panel appointed by the governor, will ultimately decide what development, if any, will take place at Black Marsh.
"We're absolutely delighted," Lynn Jordan, a member of coalition, said of North's decisions.
Jordan, a Cockeysville resident who has been working to thwart the state's plans to develop Black Marsh since 1989, said that yesterday's meeting was the first time anyone seemed to take the coalition seriously.
"It's just been frustrating up until now," she said. "A lot of the process has been closed to us."
The controversy centers on DNR plans to develop about 20 acres of Black Marsh, which the state and county purchased from Bethlehem Steel Corp. in 1987 for $5 million.
Robert L. Beckett, director of land planning for DNR, said the draft master plan that outlines development for Black Marsh was developed in tandem with a 14-member advisory committee of community leaders from Dundalk, North Point, Edgemere and other nearby communities.
The state believes that its plans, fully endorsed by the citizen committee, are modest when compared to some of the other development proposals -- such as a marina, a sit-down restaurant and an 18-hole golf course.
Beckett said the state's aim is to make Black Marsh, which was renamed North Point State Park as part of a special bill signed into law last month by the governor, more accessible to the public.
Besides a nature center and bike and foot trails, there would be a 350-seat amphitheater with concrete bleachers, picnic areas, the parking lot, a 50-foot boardwalk, tie-ups for 50 boats and a re-creation of an historic fountain that existed on the site when the old Bay Shore Amusement Park was thriving there in the early 1900s.
Beckett pointed out that the pristine marsh area of the property, some 700 acres of marsh and woodland buffer, were designated protected wildlands in the same law that changed the park's name. No development could occur in that part of Black Marsh, he said.
Jordan and the coalition's attorney, David M. Plott, both said yesterday that the state's plans are too intense and too close to the sensitive marsh, home to a wide variety of plants, birds, insects and mammals. Bald eagles have been spotted nesting on the site.
Jordan said her group questions the need for more recreational facilities and worries about the construction of an amphitheater, fearing that to protect theater-goers from insects, DNR officials will have to spread insecticides.
"The bugs and insects are the food for the marsh," she said. "By making things more comfortable for people [by using pesticides], you make things bad for life in the marsh."
Jordan said that DNR officials are suffering from "a lot of traditional thinking. We think Black Marsh deserves more care and respect."