Developer dealt blow on plan in Arundel Officials won't waive school capacity limits

December 29, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

A Washington developer's 10-year battle to build 152 single-family homes in south Anne Arundel County was dealt another setback recently when county zoning officials refused to waive school capacity limits for the planned community.

The county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement told Pointe Properties Inc. that the 100 students expected to enroll from the proposed 477-acre Baldwin's Choice subdivision on the Shady Side peninsula "would be detrimental to the quality of the curriculum and programs at these schools."

While the developer has promised to appeal the decision, members of the South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development Inc. (SACReD) -- an association of residents, civic and professional groups that opposes the development -- are counting it as a small victory.

"Our organization is very concerned about waivers because they basically mean, 'I need to get around the law. Waive the law for me so I can do what I want,' " said James R. Foster, acting president of SACReD.

"I think the county is finally trying to respond to an issue that is very important to people here, which is the issue of school capacity," he said.

"It's good to see that the county recognizes that problem," Foster said, "and that they understand that the more you keep adding to that problem, the worse it will become."

Baldwin's Choice would send students to Shady Side Elementary, Southern Middle and Southern High schools. Southern Middle is the most crowded school in the county, according to school board officials. Eighth-graders were sent to the high school in September to ease the problem.

"It is not an unusual problem for an area with the capacity for more development," said school board President Carlesa R. Finney. "Our schools have grown to current capacity. In order to accommodate the students if there's growth, there needs to be growth in the facilities to make them adequate."

Several efforts to reach Pointe Property officials were unsuccessful.

Residents say school crowding isn't the only issue raised by Baldwin's Choice.

The development is expected to increase traffic on crowded Shady Side Road (Route 468), the peninsula's only link to the rest of the county, residents say.

And the project is expected to destroy 2 of the 345 acres of wetlands near the site, although developers have promised to create new wetlands.

A battle

The recent ruling is one step in a battle that has spawned numerous public hearings, rallies, letter-writing campaigns and lawsuits by the developer and SACReD.

SACReD filed suit against County Executive John G. Gary in August 1996 seeking to overturn a county policy that allows development in communities where school enrollments exceed capacity by as much as 20 percent. At the time, SACReD accused Gary of favoring developers over students.

In January, Pointe Properties filed a $52 million lawsuit against SACReD over a letter the group distributed that questioned the developer's property-buying practices.

Pointe claims that SACReD wrote letters that defamed the developer by accusing it of being involved in secret liens and sweetheart land deals.

The suit contends that SACReD published a letter that "falsely and maliciously" accused the developer of bankruptcy fraud and bank fraud.

Targeting opponents

Attorneys for SACReD have asked the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to dismiss the suit on grounds that it is intended to intimidate opponents.

SACReD officials say they are heartened by the county's denial of the waiver on school capacity.

"This is not the end of the war, this is simply a battle in the war," Foster said.

"We are cautiously braced."

Pub Date: 12/29/97

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