Chapman's Landing preserved Purchase complete: Final piece of fragile Southern Maryland waterfront preserved by foundation.

November 02, 1998

BEFORE the state moved to acquire the planned Chapman's Landing development in Charles County, a private conservation group was working to buy the most fragile land in the 2,225-acre tract along the Potomac River.

The nonprofit Conservation Fund last month engineered the final piece in the land acquisition puzzle. It brokered a deal for purchase of the remaining 375 acres of Chapman's Landing, after the state moved to acquire 1,850 acres from the developer in August.

Opposition to the planned city of 12,000 people sprang from a variety of concerns: pollution of important fisheries, danger to old-growth forest, wetlands loss, endangered species threats, well-water rights and historical preservation of the 18th century plantation.

The project was planned for 10 years, receiving the glowing endorsement of the Charles County commissioners. Clustered housing, with its own commercial and recreation areas, was seen as a sprawl-limiting benefit to the county and to the environment. It appeared to match the criteria of "smart growth" preached by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

But the governor was convinced that the adverse environmental impacts of the project outweighed the importance of containing sprawl. He moved to condemn the land for a state park. The state paid $25.3 million, giving environmentalists one year to purchase the remaining land.

While the Southern Maryland episode illustrates the growing power of the state to influence local zoning and land-use decisions, it is no model for the future. The state had surplus money this year to buy the land; the developer had financial problems; a critical state wetlands permit was required.

State officials will be especially wary of repealing a county's development plan and of resorting to the risky process of condemnation to block a properly zoned subdivision. The enduring lesson is that greater coordination and cooperation is needed between locality and state in evaluating such large-scale developments.

Pub Date: 11/02/98

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