It was a day of worship, but South County residents were more in themood for a fight. About 150 gathered at the West River Methodist Church Camp Conference Center yesterday afternoon to map out a legal plan to keep a Florida developer from building 96 homes on 22 acres.
Residents sought advice from County Attorney Steve Beard, Assistant County Attorney Robert Pollack and County Councilwoman Virginia Clagett, D-West River.
Residents already are claiming one small victory, after Beard said he would seek to limit development to 68 lots. However, the group is girding themselves for a legal battle that may end up in court.
"We're going to stick to our position for 68 lots," Beard told the group. "I can say that it is apparent that they tried to circumvent thelaw, but a judge will say that they own the land. I know we are on solid ground taking the position that the lots abut back to front."
The Back Bay Beach development is planned in what is known as a Critical Area -- a protected 1,000-foot-wide buffer along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
It was subdivided and recorded during the1920s, 30 years before the county adopted its first zoning laws.
Current zoning on the property, R-2, allows the developers to build no more than two houses per acre. In 1987, the council passed an antiquated lot law, requiring owners of two or more adjacent lots to combine their properties to conform to zoning laws. But in this case, the owner of Back Bay Beach passed ownership to four different corporations, but with the same mailing address in Naples, Fla.
Clagett toldthe group that the County Council's hands are somewhat tied, but assured them that she is on their side.
"It was the best we could do at the time," Clagett said. "I was always told that a sharp person could get around the law."
Peg Burroughs, who represents "Save Our Streams" said she is pleased with Clagett's support, but has questionsthat her group wants answered including issues concerning storm water management.
"The people here would like to review the storm water plan," Burroughs told county officials. "All the trees are going tobe taken down. We want to review the plans."
Pollock invited group leaders to check with the county Office of Planning and Zoning for the plans, but other questions surfaced. Parents wanted to know what will happen to South County schools that they say are already overcrowded, including Deale Elementary. Others say the development would create more traffic and additional strain on county services.
John Floyd, a West River resident, said he is convinced that the plan should be revised.
"At least it should be curtailed to present zoning regulations," Floyd said.