Winning by the old rules Anne Arundel County: Baldwin's Choice in Shady Side gets disputed wetlands approval.

December 05, 1996

OPPONENTS OF Baldwin's Choice, a 157-unit residential development to be built on the Shady Side peninsula in southern Anne Arundel County, were disappointed that the state Board of Public Works granted the developers a wetlands permit last week.

They thought they would be able to prevail in their two-year battle to stop this project and were sorely disappointed when the board unanimously approved it.

The board -- composed of the governor, comptroller and treasurer -- claimed its hands were tied because its authority was limited to the question of the destruction of 0.16 acres of tidal wetlands. Gov. Parris N. Glendening said that other issues dealing with land-use or zoning were beyond the board's purview, much to the chagrin of opponents. They had hoped the board would put an end to this development, first proposed nearly a decade ago.

A change in ownership and in wetlands regulation complicated matters. The original developers, Franklin Point Limited Partnership, acquired the 345-acre parcel in 1986, but apparently could not obtain the necessary financing to proceed. Nevertheless, they submitted plans to build on the property in 1990, one year before the state adopted more stringent rules for disturbing wetlands. Pointe Properties bought out the original owners in 1993 and submitted a plan that year.

The question before the Board of Public Works was whether to approve the project under the original rules that governed wetlands development, or the 1991 rules the state adopted. The board decided that the original rules should govern its decision. This grandfathering disturbed opponents who felt that the later, more stringent rules should apply.

To avoid a repeat of this situation, development applications should have a sunset provision. If a developer does not build a project after a certain period of time -- five years, perhaps -- the permits should expire. To revive the project, the developer would have to begin from scratch and any new rules would apply.

Developers often complain, with justification, that governments change the rules halfway through the game. However, governments have every right to change the rules before the starting whistle.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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