Development challenge delayed Appeal: Worthington Way residents have been given another chance to properly present their case for preserving 10 acres in Ellicott City.

July 29, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Worthington Way residents were supposed to make their case last night to the Howard County Board of Appeals for preserving a 10-acre lot in Ellicott City.

Instead, residents and board members debated whether the community was adequately informed about how to challenge a decision by the Department of Planning and Zoning, and the case was postponed until Sept. 22.

Neighbors planned to appeal the department's decision to allow the lot to be developed, arguing that the site is an environmentally fragile one that is not appropriate for development.

But the department's representative, Liz Entwisle, told the board the appeal names only resident John L. Baker as the appellant, not the community, and therefore the case would be limited to how development would affect Baker and not the entire community.

"We are looking at a very narrow issue," Entwisle said.

Residents said they had selected Baker, who lives directly behind the property, as their representative as Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the department's director, suggested in a letter last August.

Rutter wrote that because of the high number of letters he received from residents, "we would suggest that you select a community representative who would be able to disseminate the information on this project."

The community chose Baker. But Entwisle said he could not be the community's legal representative and residents could be represented only by a community association or by adding their names to the appeal.

After a 40-minute debate, the board agreed to give the community more time to find a lawyer and to properly present an appeal.

"He [Rutter] made the wrong assumption," board member Donald Messenger said. But "I'm always in favor of giving someone the opportunity to prepare themselves."

In October, Planning and Zoning officials approved Ellicott City resident Ron Wildman's plan to build 11 houses on the property in question.

But neighbors appealed, contending Wildman's plan to develop his land would disturb the flood pattern and lead to erosion problems and eventually pollute the Chesapeake Bay.

The site is the last piece of undeveloped land in the Worthington community, home to streams, patches of wetlands and wildlife amid the sprawl of suburbia.

"We don't want [Wildman] to tear down something that is serving a vital [ecological] interest in the community," said Lee Walker Oxenham.

But Wildman, who heads a firm that advises developers about environmental issues, says his houses are designed to create the least impact on the environment.

"Yes, trees will be cut down but we are going beyond the state's [environment] regulations," he said.

The proposed houses would sell for about $250,000, Wildman said. Neighboring houses are valued between about $185,000 and $300,000.

Planning and Zoning officials said the project does not pose any larger environmental hazard than other similar projects.

"The issue for the neighbors is that any development is going to adversely affect the environment. That's true," Rutter said. "But property owners have a right to develop."

Oxenham and other community members have taken their concerns to environmental organizations, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

But those officials say they will not get involved in the matter until Wildman applies for a waiver to build near the streams or wetlands.

"It's a minor type of permit. He would not have to do that until he began development," said Terry Clark, head of the wetlands and water waiver division at MDE.

"We don't have a regulating role," said Doug Garmen, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers. "The only time we become involved is if the developer submits an application to build in any wetlands."

But Oxenham said the community wants to be involved every step of the way.

"We were letting them know there is a developer out there on an area we understand is environmentally protected," she said.

Oxenham said that if they lose at the Board of Appeals stage, there are no plans to go to the next level, the Circuit Court. But they will continue to monitor the development project through the state's environmental groups.

"We want as much protection as possible," she said.

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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