Goals colliding in Odenton Anne Arundel County: Town center, even on wetlands, might be better for environment. NTC

August 02, 1996

ODENTON TOWN CENTER'S development seems to be a 28-year lesson in frustration. Since Anne Arundel County designated the area, bordered by Routes 32 and 175 and the Amtrak rail lines, as one of its three town centers decades ago, development has been stymied over the question of building on non-tidal wetlands.

This fall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment will decide whether the latest development plan is acceptable. The dilemma is a case of one laudable planning goal -- concentrating high density residential, commercial and office development to prevent sprawl -- butting up against an equally commendable environmental goal -- that of protecting wetlands. The question is whether one goal must be achieved to the exclusion of the other.

When Anne Arundel County selected Odenton as a town center, protection of wetlands was not an environmental priority. However, in the intervening years, scientists established the importance of protecting marshy areas, which act as natural filters to cleanse storm water runoff. Unfortunately, these wetlands in question have already been partially compromised. They now drain into a storm water management pond designed to handle runoff from nearby roads.

Current plans call for filling in 10.9 acres of wetlands of a 30-acre parcel slated for development. Environmental groups oppose the plan, saying it would destroy too large an area of wetlands. Less intense development might preserve more of the wetlands, but would destroy the concept of the town center. Relocating this center would not be easy. This site was selected because of its proximity to major roads and the Odenton commuter rail station. Large residential developments were approved and built and substantial sums of public money already invested with the expectation that this site would become Odenton's town center.

Regulators can take the position that any destruction of wetlands is unacceptable. But if they adopt that course and don't allow the development of the Odenton Town Center as planned, they may have to accept the reality that substantially more environmental damage might occur elsewhere from the sprawl this town center was designed to curtail.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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