State, county agree to spend $5.7 million to buy land near bay Environmental group hails decision concerning area on Franklin Point

October 21, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Ending one of the most ferocious land battles in Anne Arundel County, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced yesterday that the state and county will pay $5.7 million to preserve the largest piece of unspoiled land on the Shady Side peninsula.

The governments reached an agreement to buy 477 acres of wetlands and forests on Franklin Point from Washington developer Dominic F. Antonelli, halting his plans to build 152 homes beside the Chesapeake Bay.

Most of the land will be held in trust as a wilderness preserve. The county will ask nearby residents if they want the county to build ball fields on about 50 acres that once held a small airstrip, said County Executive John G. Gary.

The news brought cheers from a local environmental group that successfully fought off a $50 million libel suit brought by the developer, who claimed that their years of strident attacks on him had ruined his reputation.

"This is the culmination of a 12-year effort by the citizens of Shady Side," said Jim Foster, president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development.

The agreement disclosed yesterday calls for the county to pay half of the cost of buying the land from Antonelli, and for the tTC Maryland Department of Natural Resources to pay the other half -- pending approval by the Anne Arundel County Council and the General Assembly.

Antonelli, who has made a fortune building parking garages, declined to discuss the agreement yesterday. But a representative of his company, Pointe Properties Inc., confirmed that Antonelli had signed an agreement to sell the land.

The $5.72 million price approved by the state and county is considerably less than the $18 million Antonelli was offered for the property more than a decade ago.

Glendening said preserving the land is important to the Chesapeake Bay's ecology. Gary, a Republican known for his pro-business sympathies, in July took the unusual stand of publicly pledging to help pay for the preservation effort before the more famously pro-environmental governor had done so.

"Anne Arundel County is pleased to be a major partner in the preservation of Baldwin's Choice. The community and citizens were heard loud a clear," Gary said.

Antonelli proposed building a subdivision called Baldwin's Choice on the property, which is sandwiched between residential developments and includes 352 acres of wetlands and bird nesting areas.

But the local environmental organization, which goes by the acronym SACReD, fought him for more than a decade at every step in the application process.

The community activists plastered the Shady Side peninsula with "Save the Point" signs, organized rallies and letter-writing campaigns and complained to the media about their fears of traffic congestion, crowded schools and damaged wetlands.

The fighting reached its peak last year when Antonelli sued SACReD members for libel, accusing the community activists of going too far when they wrote politicians questioning whether he was involved in sweetheart land deals.

A District of Columbia Superior Court jury ruled in favor of South County activists in June, deciding that although some of the complaints about Antonelli were false, they were not libelous.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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