Governor bias for developer alleged Foes feel shut out of Charles Co. project

November 13, 1995|By Timothy B. Wheeler and John W. Frece | Timothy B. Wheeler and John W. Frece,SUN STAFF

Environmentalists opposed to a huge new development on the Potomac River in Southern Maryland charge that the Glendening administration gave the developer favored treatment while shutting out citizen opponents.

According to internal state memorandums released by environmental groups, state officials met every two weeks in the spring with representatives of Banyan Management Inc., the Chicago developer, to expedite regulatory review of the firm's proposal to build up to 4,600 homes, shops and offices on 2,200 mostly forested acres in northwestern Charles County.

State Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin, whose department was mulling whether to issue water and wetlands permits for the project, met at least twice with Banyan officials and wrote memos to report progress on the project to Major F. Riddick Jr., Gov. Parris N. Glendening's chief of staff.

The state Department of the Environment, which assumed regulatory duties from Natural Resources this summer under a state reorganization, last week granted the developers a permit to withdraw enough water from a deep underground aquifer allow construction of the first 600 homes.

Environmentalists objected, saying the state should not permit such a large-scale development before determining whether there is enough ground water in a county where some residents complain their wells are running dry. In granting the developer a permit, the state announced it also plans to conduct a yearlong study of the region's ground water supply.

"The Glendening administration went the extra mile, literally, for the developers," said Joy Oakes, regional director of the Sierra Club. Meanwhile, she said, citizen opponents of the project failed to get an audience with Mr. Griffin, despite repeated attempts to schedule a meeting.

Mr. Griffin said he met with Banyan officials in April after they complained to the governor's office about delays in getting state review of their project. The frequent meetings were held to seek information from the developer and try to reduce the environmental impact of the project. Mr. Griffin added that while he did not meet with opponents, his staff did.

Opponents, however, were not mollified.

"The whole process here really smells," complained Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Maryland director of Clean Water Action.

Charles D. Ellison Jr., the Maryland project manager for Banyan, acknowledged that he had unusual access to state officials, but contended the additional attention was justified.

"The number of meetings on Chapman's Landing is probably exceptional," he said, "but the area of the project is much larger than most, and the public scrutiny has been much more than most projects."

The development, expected to take 15 to 20 years, would spread over 3.5 square miles of mostly forestland. The site includes a historic home, Mount Aventine, and borders a state nature preserve and Mattawoman Creek, a Potomac tributary and bass stream.

Meetings with state regulators were not regularly scheduled until after Banyan officials complained they could not get answers from the state, particularly during the administration change in Annapolis, Mr. Ellison said.

"The meetings came about because we fell into the black hole of processing," Mr. Ellison said.

Mr. Riddick said the periodic memos he received from Mr. Griffin on the status of the project were not unusual. Memos from Cabinet secretaries cross his desk every day, he said, on issues as diverse as new road construction and welfare programs.

Mr. Glendening has emphasized the need to speed up the permit process for businesses as part of an effort to change Maryland's reputation as an anti-business state. Mr. Riddick said processing of the permits for Chapman's Landing "should not have taken so long."

He also said government has to be "a bit more efficient, a bit more customer-friendly." But he said that while the governor wants to reduce business regulations, he wants to do so without harming the environment.

"He is not giving up on the environmentalists and hopes they're not giving up on us," he said.

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