Charles County property preserved Chapman's Landing last section bought by foundation, given to Md.

October 29, 1998|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

A Pittsburgh foundation has stepped in to buy the last contested portion of Chapman's Landing, ensuring that a new city would never be built on the highly prized Potomac River property in Charles County.

In a decisive ending to one of Maryland's longest-running battles between developers and conservationists, Legend Properties turned over the entire 2,225-acre forest to the state of Maryland yesterday in exchange for $28.5 million -- $25.3 million from Maryland taxpayers and $3.2 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The 18th-century manor house and its surrounding lands, which lie across the Potomac from George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation and shelter 16 pairs of bald eagles and dozens of rare and threatened plants, will become a state park.

"It's fabulous news," said Sierra Club activist Joy M. Oakes, who helped lead conservationists' decadelong battle to block the developer's plans for a Columbia-style city on the riverfront site that they call Chapman's Forest. "This says to citizens across America who are fighting development that your efforts can be successful even when the powers-that-be say, 'It's a done deal. You're beaten before you start. Give up. Go away.' "

The deal is also an election-eve feather in the cap of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who is counting on environmentalists' support to help him defeat Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey in Tuesday's election.

In August, Glendening announced that the state would buy 1,850 acres of the tract. State negotiators also persuaded Legend to delay developing the remaining 375 acres for a year, giving environmentalists a chance to buy the parcel. It was that land which the Mellon Foundation bought yesterday and immediately turned over to the state.

"We have now saved all of Chapman's Forest," Glendening said, "protecting one of the most environmentally, historically and culturally significant, undisturbed tracts along the Potomac River."

The Sauerbrey campaign used the occasion to lambaste Glendening for failing to buy the land earlier at a lower price.

"If it was wrong to develop this property now, it was wrong four years ago when Parris Glendening was supporting the development," said Carol L. Hirschburg, a spokeswoman for Sauerbrey. "This kind of flip-flopping does not give business people confidence in Maryland as a place to do business."

Glendening, who inherited a Chapman's Landing development that had cleared most regulatory hurdles and was strongly favored by Charles County officials, at first called it a local matter and declined to intervene. But near the end of his first year in office, he cited the controversy as proof that the state needed better ways to manage growth.

Legend chief executive officer Edward F. Podboys, who once demanded $35 million to $37 million for the entire tract, praised the Glendening administration yesterday and said he was "pleased" with the deal.

The land goes to the state Department of Natural Resources, which will turn over 50 acres alongside a local airport to Charles County officials, who plan to use it for airport-related business development.

The remainder of the land will be managed for recreation and resource conservation, state officials said. Department of Natural Resources land managers planned to tour the land today as a first step toward deciding what kind of public facilities will be added.

The property is rich in archaeological, historical and cultural treasures, said Bonnie Bick of Friends of Mount Aventine, a Southern Maryland conservation group named after the Chapman's Landing plantation house. "We would like to have this become very accessible in areas where that's appropriate, but managed in a way that will do credit to this fragile environment."

Yesterday's deal was the latest in a string of Maryland purchases by the Mellon Foundation, controlled by the heirs to LTC one of the nation's most famed 19th-century banking and industrial fortunes. The foundation has spent $200 million nationwide on buying land "in danger of urban sprawl," said Jack Lynn, spokesman for the Virginia-based Conservation Fund, which persuaded the Mellon fund to get involved in the transaction.

Other tracts which the Mellons have bought and turned over to the government include parts of the Antietam National Battlefield and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Lynn said.

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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