A Cape St. Claire developer has received county approval to build within a protected buffer along the Little Magothy River, contrary to the state's Critical Area law.
Because of the county's interpretation of the Critical Area law, Woods Landing Joint Venture will be ableto cut down four times as many trees, pave 10 percent more of its 34-acre site and build 50 feet closer to the shoreline than the state law would otherwise allow.
Every county has its own program enforcing the Critical Area law,designed to protect the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, to preserve the trees and wildlife along its shores and to control development in a1,000-foot strip.
Anne Arundel officials say Woods Landing Section 2 complies with the county's 4-year-old program.
But planners with the state Critical Area Commission say that while it may comply with the county program, the 153-town house development off Woods Landing Drive falls short of the goals of the statewide program.
Woods Landing Section 2 is one of a dozen or more subdivisions on the Broadneck Peninsula that will not have to abide by the law's stringent environmental standards, says Anne Hairston, a state Critical Area planner.
The county ordinance exempts subdivisions like Woods Landing Section 2 that were placed on a waiting list for public sewer service in the early 1980s, and others that received approval before the County Council adopted its enforcement program.
The exempt developments are asked to comply "in so far as possible." But for Hairston and many critics of the county Critical Area program, that is not far enough.
The compromises that allowed Woods Landing Section 2 have neighboring residents concerned. They say intense development and loss offorest could seriously pollute the Little Magothy River with mud andother sediment.
"There will be no more Little Magothy River if they do this," said Betsy Kulle, a resident of the original, 99-home Woods Landing subdivision. "Within five years, it will be destroyed."
The Woods Landing residents hope to force the developer to more closely comply. They will ask the county Board of Appeals on April 15 torescind the subdivision's approval.
Residents also have been hoping that the Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary, a Bowie-based, non-profit organization, would buy the heavily forested property. The group wants to buy the property but says the site is worth perhaps $3 million, rather than the $9 million asked by the developer. In any case, the sanctuary doesn't have any money for the purchase.
"What (the developer) is going to do is essentially desolate it and destroy all the character it has now, which is pretty spectacular," said Patrick Preston, of the Chesapeake Wildlife Land Trust, a part of the sanctuary organization.
Philip Ratcliffe, managing partner of the development group, said he has gone out of his way to comply with county laws.
"We think it's a pretty piece of property, and we want to make it anasset to the community," he said. "Everyone wants to bash anyone whowants to build anything today. We put a tremendous amount of time into making this as sensitive to that piece of property as we could."
An environmental consultant hired by the Woods Landing Community Association has predicted that 521 tons of soil will wash away during construction under the current development plan.
That would be reduced 80 percent if the project fully complied with the Critical Area criteria, said said Richard Klein, president of Community and Environmental Defense Services.
Klein said Woods Landing is one of 28 subdivisions planned within the Critical Area on the Broadneck Peninsula that could qualify for the "in so far as possible" policy.
The county is being "very liberal in its interpretation of the grandfathering clause so as to make the Critical Area law ineffective," said Michael Hoffman, chairman of the county chapter of the Sierra Club.
Hairston, the state critical area planner, outlined discrepancies between the county ordinance and the state law at a meeting of the 26-member Critical Area Commission last week.
The state law does allow counties to grandfather in projects in Critical Areas, but not to exemptdevelopers from all Critical Area requirements. Even grandfathered projects, for example, should not be building within 100 feet of high tide, she said.
The Woods Landing project would include development within 50 feet of the water.
County planners argue that they aresimply enforcing the program approved by the state commission four years ago.
"It wasn't adopted in a vacuum," said Penny Chalkley, with the county Office of Planning and Zoning. "It was there for all toreview."
Hairston said she raised the discrepancies last week in preparation of a scheduled four-year review of the county ordinance later this summer.