State buyout at Chapman's Landing State purchase: Potomac River site spared from development amid rethinking of growth strategies.

August 27, 1998

CREDIT THE strong economy for the state's $25 million commitment to block the planned 4,600-home community at Chapman's Landing in Charles County. The governor last week signed an agreement to buy 1,850 acres of prime forest and Potomac River shore, which would prevent Legend Properties Inc. from building the community.

Now nonprofit environmental groups must come up with several million dollars to buy the remaining 375-acre parcel to prevent a smaller project by the landowner. That will test the financial resolve of private groups that lobbied hard to kill the large development, despite its approval by the county commissioners.

Because the state has plenty of surplus funds in this election year, the governor has been spending freely to protect ecologically sensitive lands threatened by development. That is a welcome step, although the Charles County and state treasuries will lose considerable future revenues from cancellation of the housing project.

Buying Chapman's Landing is also an admission by Gov. Parris Glendening that his "smart growth" program to reduce sprawl is subject to varying interpretations. The project's design clustered housing with central utilities, in line with the governor's land-use strategy. But the community's location on historic, sensitive lands of prime woodlands, wetlands and endangered species raised serious land-use concerns.

As Mr. Glendening said, the project once seemed desirable but not in today's climate with our changing perspectives of growth and preserving the environment.

The deal is a good one for the public, less so for the developer, which faced state condemnation of the land without the negotiated sale. But we must not expect the state to buy every controversial development. Such mega-developments must be carefully weighed by local and state officials before being granted approval.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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