Critics on Shore assail new housing $100 million proposal would ruin appeal of St. Michaels, they say

October 10, 1998|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

ST. MICHAELS -- Five months after being lauded for an innovative design that draws on the traditional style of this historic waterfront town, developers of a proposed $100 million community along the Miles River have run into well-organized opponents who say the project would ruin the ambience that draws people to the Eastern Shore.

Designed by architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk -- who have gained a worldwide reputation for planned communities such as Seaside, Fla., and Kentlands in Montgomery County -- the development would eventually include 375 single-family houses and townhouses, a 30-room inn, retail space, a performing-arts center, public riverfront park and other amenities.

Residents and town officials were invited to participate in a weeklong planning and design session in the spring that drew praise for its efforts to include town officials and residents early in the planning.

The proposed community, originally known as Perry Point, is now called Miles Point.

Plans call for the trademark Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. neo-traditional features such as a town square, narrow streets and homes that would blend with the clapboard houses, shops and green spaces of the town of about 1,300 that was founded in 1804.

Officials of Midland Cos. in Washington say the houses would range in price from about $200,000 to $450,000 or more.

Thursday night, more than 120 opponents jammed the fire

hall, where the basic design of Miles Point was worked out in public sessions during the spring. The rub, they say, is the scope of the project and its impact on traffic, emergency services, schools and "quality of life."

First came newspaper advertisements questioning a plan to run water and sewer lines under the harbor at St. Michaels to a Talbot County water-treatment plant.

Residents who turned out for the town Planning Commission meeting Thursday were greeted by members of the new SOS (Save Our St. Michaels) armed with 15-page printed handouts, bumper stickers and political-style pins.

"Back in the early spring, you'd have thought this was a done deal," said Warren Marton, one of the organization's leaders. "But the more time people had to think about it, the more concerned they became about the magnitude of it."

Like some other leaders of SOS, Marton lives in Fog Cove, a luxury townhouse community near the upscale Inn at Perry Cabin and adjacent to the 89 acres where Miles Point would be built.

A former resident of Laurel, Marton retired to St. Michaels three years ago, fed up, he said, with the congestion, crime and other problems of increasingly urbanized Prince George's County.

"We went through the tract housing of the '60s, the apartments of the '70s, the condos of the '80s and the sprawl of the '90s," Marton said.

Developers Gary Modjeska and George Valanos need town approval for a zoning change that would allow a traditional neighborhood development. In addition, they have asked for the annexation of 17 acres that would be combined paired with 72 acres within the town.

If approval is denied by the town, Midland would build 300 or more homes on the larger of the two farmland tracts.

"The open process we used in designing this project is the way we do business, but we also felt it was the most logical approach," said Valanos. "That's why we're confident of the overall concept. We feel a traditional neighborhood has more to offer for St. Michaels."

Valanos and Modjeska characterized leaders of SOS as a vocal minority who have stirred emotions with newspaper ads.

"I think in large part you have a handful of people who have a strong personal interest in what happens outside their window," said Modjeska. "It's understandable, but we would hope that the town commissioners would consider what's best overall for St. Michaels."

For Sidney Dickson, who runs a tree service and lives just outside St. Michaels, the only question town officials should consider is whether development is desirable.

"All these traffic studies that have been done are a smoke screen," Dickson said. "The roads are already overwhelmed. We don't want any more traffic."

Town officials, who have hired a consulting firm for about $60,000 to help sort out the details, have scheduled another public hearing before the Planning Commission for Oct. 22. After that, the town commissioners will begin considering the proposal.

SOS leaders say the issue should be decided by town voters in a referendum.

"At the least, we'd like to see the density reduced," said Don Campbell. "It's really just too much for St. Michaels and the whole area."

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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