Group seeks to buy tract on Potomac Protecting woodlands at Chapman's site is proposal's goal

State would aid funding

Conservationists, developer decline to discuss plan

January 01, 1998|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

A private conservation group is trying to purchase some of the most environmentally sensitive land slated to be part of Chapman's Landing, the huge waterfront development proposed for Southern Maryland.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has quietly promoted the transaction as a way to preserve some of the pristine woodlands and historically important property that is part of the 2,250-acre project in Charles County.

The state would provide much of the funding needed to purchase the land, which overlooks the Potomac River, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Chapman's Landing has become a rallying cry among Maryland's environmental advocates in recent years, who contend it involves too much development on too ecologically fragile and important a property. The project includes 4,600 homes, an 18-hole golf course and 2.25 million square feet of office and retail space.

Ray Feldmann, a Glendening spokesman, declined to comment on the possible sale and would confirm only "talks between representatives of this administration and others." He refused to identify the other parties.

"There are discussions that are ongoing involving all or part of the Chapman's Landing property," Feldmann said. "It would be inappropriate to say more while those discussions are ongoing."

Robert B. Cavoto, chief financial officer of Legend Properties Inc. of Woodbridge, Va., which is developing Chapman's, said he could confirm only that his company and a private conservation group have formally agreed not to discuss their dealings publicly.

"We're willing to discuss anything with anyone," said Cavoto. "But as of this moment, our plans [to develop the property] have not changed."

Sources have identified the third party in the talks as The Conservation Fund, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit group that acquires wetlands, historic sites, scenic areas and wildlife habitat nationwide.

Jack Lynn, a senior associate with the group, said he could not confirm his organization's involvement.

PTC "As a matter of policy, we can't discuss negotiations," he said.

An outright purchase of the property would likely be a costly transaction and, therefore, unlikely. Located 20 miles east of Washington, the land is valued at about $12 million, according to tax assessment records, and is in a section of Charles County designated by county officials for growth.

A stronger possibility would be the purchase of land adjacent to Mattawoman Creek that includes historic Mount Aventine, the area that is considered of greatest historic and environmental importance.

But environmental advocates have told Glendening administration officials they would vigorously oppose any partial purchase because they see most of Chapman's as inappropriate for development.

"The whole property is valuable," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Chesapeake director of Clean Water Action. "We would be interested in seeing the state purchase Chapman's, but a partial deal would not do at all."

Joy Oakes, regional director of the Sierra Club, said any significant development of the property would affect fish spawning, stream levels and forest habitat because so much of the land is sensitive.

"Maybe 10 percent of the property could accept development, but less than that would be preferable," she said.

Opponents said they fear a partial buyout might pave the way for the Maryland Department of Environment to issue a state wetlands permit, the final obstacle facing the developer.

They would prefer the state deny the permit and kill the proposal.

"We're not interested in a deal," said Bonnie Bick, president of the opposition group, Friends of Mount Aventine. "We'd love to compromise, but, unfortunately, the property is totally inappropriate for the magnitude of what they're proposing."

Nevertheless, finding an alternative that satisfies all parties would provide a political boost for Glendening, who has improved his standing with environmentalists with his anti-sprawl Smart Growth laws.

A deal with Legend Properties could be reached as early as mid-February, sources said, and could be financed through Maryland's Program Open Space as well as federal and private donations.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, an opponent of the project, said he was skeptical that any partial buyout could produce a satisfactory compromise and called on the governor to deny the wetlands permit.

The Prince George's County Democrat noted that any large-scale development at Chapman's would present problems for the region, including traffic, water and sewage demands.

"The win-win scenario for the governor is to not issue the permit and stand up for the quality of life in Maryland and say no to the rape of this pristine section of Southern Maryland," Miller said.

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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