Franklin Point activists invite residents and politicians to `almost' victory bash

Aim in Arundel: to get, keep them on board project

January 29, 1999|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

The high-profile cocktail party will take advantage of two political truths.

No. 1: Politicians will trip over each other claiming responsibility for a good deed.

No. 2: Politicians hate to get caught backing down from a popular cause they have loudly championed and publicly celebrated.

Acting on these maxims, a group of Anne Arundel County activists that has been waging a high-stakes land battle for a decade is staging a public relations stunt -- throwing a victory party for a victory that isn't.

Not quite yet, anyway.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development is calling the Saturday night gala an "almost victory" party.

They've booked nationally renowned guitarist Bill Kirchen and his band, Too Much Fun, and reserved a hall at Shady Side Kiwanis Club. The governor got an invitation, as did the county executive and various state politicians.

People will sip wine and toast the saving of Franklin Point, 477 acres of bay-front land that came within an inch of becoming a tract of high-priced, single-family homes.

That the wetlands on Shady Side peninsula have not been saved is being dubbed a technicality.

"That's why it's an `almost' victory party," said group member Amanda Spake. "The state and county funds have been allocated. Now it's just a matter of them being formally approved."

The strategy is to celebrate early with those who eventually will have to sign the multimillion-dollar checks so that they won't dare back out of their promises.

"What we have learned is that citizens working together for the common good can make great things happen against all odds," said activist Mike Shay.

The war over Franklin Point has been long and heated.

Washington developer Dominic F. Antonelli, who owns the property, had planned to build 152 homes in the area, which residents love for its 352 acres of wetlands and bird nesting refuges.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, long proud of its reputation for being a thorn in developers' sides, took on the battle. The group peppered south Arundel with signs reading, "Save the Point," organized rallies and letter-writing campaigns, and raised a stink about traffic woes, crowded schools and disappearing wetlands.

Antonelli is a millionaire who is no stranger to neighbors upset over what he is proposing to build. But he sued the group for libel, accusing it of going too far when members wrote politicians questioning whether he was involved in "sweetheart" land deals.

Antonelli lost the suit and group continued its campaign.

After more than a decade, the state and the county have decided to contribute money to save the land. The state legislature will vote this year on a proposal to spend $5.7 million to purchase the property. And Anne Arundel County could contribute as much as $3 million, depending on how much the land sells for, said county spokesman John Morris.

So members of the activist group and others will celebrate tomorrow night, while continuing to press for their cause. And they will continue to hope that the checks will be in the mail.

"This is the reason that Saturday night we celebrate, and the next day we continue to work to benefit our community," Shay said.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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