Growth pressures unite rivals Officials welcome grass-roots effort ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY -- Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

April 05, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

For once, the environmentalists and the developers were in the same room and were not calling each other names.

Instead of trading insults, the archenemies were having a lengthy philosophical discussion about development, the fragile ecology of the Chesapeake Bay and the future of the Annapolis region.

What's going on here? At a time when the recession has virtually halted construction of the sprawling, modern developments with which the 1980s became synonymous, growth has become the hot issue in Annapolis.

Government officials, architects, homebuilders and residents from as far away as the Eastern Shore are making their way to Annapolis City Hall every month to talk about land-use issues.

The first town meeting on growth and the environment was such a success (even though it was held on a cold Friday night in January) that it has turned into a regular affair.

Craig Purcell, a downtown architect who has arranged the meetings with the Chesapeake Bay chapter of the American Institute of Architects, believes the interest is natural because Maryland's capital city is at a crossroads.

"There are a lot of questions about our future right now," he said. "Are we going to be a town where people come to pick up a gift, or are we going to be something else? What about the development of the Annapolis peninsula? Can we swim in the bay again? Will our children have clean air in the future?"

Annapolis Neck, once a quiet, rural peninsula on the bay, became rapidly deforested by housing developments during the 1980s, he said.

Forest Drive is choked with traffic, even as developers are looking nearby at the last tracts of open land in the city. And Parole is languishing.

City officials have welcomed the new grass-roots approach to wrestling with growth issues. The city is co-sponsoring the next meeting, scheduled for April 22, to discuss creating an independent metropolitan planning group.

Annapolis is part of planning councils based in Baltimore and Washington, but both urban centers have their own agendas, said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff.

With its own planning organization, he said, Annapolis could have a more powerful voice on regional issues such as mass transportation and roads.

"Even though we're emerging from a recession, [that] doesn't mean that we can ignore these issues," said Jon Arason, Annapolis' deputy zoning director.

Both he and J. Shepard Tullier, the county's comprehensive planning administrator, agree the new organization is a different breed from the usual band of "Not in My Backyard" activists.

"This group seems to be taking a much broader perspective, and I think that's good," Mr. Tullier said.

Among the members of the group (which doesn't have an official name) are Stephen Carr, who is active with the Severn River Association, and Anthony R. Souza, president of the local homebuilders association.

Others include environmental activists who were frustrated when they lost a drawn-out battle to save the old Severn River Bridge, which is being replaced by an 80-foot-high span.

Mr. Carr, an environmental lobbyist who lives next to the bridge, said he has come to realize that laws alone will not save the environment.

"It's time to stop screaming, 'It's their fault, it's their fault,' and start building a consensus," he said.

In years past, he might have automatically opposed Mr. Souza. Meanwhile, Mr. Souza said he's been "looking for an opening for some time to make friends with the environmentalists."

At the town meetings, the two have found enough in common to become buddies.

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