Council OKs protection for reservoirs

Planned development near Triadelphia is exempted

An issue of fairness

Gray sponsored bill to make county rules match state's

July 07, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's reservoirs will have an extra measure of protection from development after a unanimous County Council vote last night, but approval came only after farmer Charles Sharp won an exemption for the 95-home development he plans near Triadelphia reservoir.

The protection bill requires that homes built within 2,500 feet of a reservoir must be on lots that are 2 acres or larger to provide an area to absorb run-off from roofs and other surfaces.

The amendment grandfathering Sharp's proposed development was approved on a 3-2 vote, with west Columbia Democrat Mary C. Lorsung joining the council's two Republicans.

"There's a basic issue of fairness here," Lorsung said, adding that Sharp's project has been delayed repeatedly through no fault of his.

"I think predictability is a very important part of how we do business in Howard County," said Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who sponsored the amendment.

He and Allan H. Kittleman, the western county Republican who represents the Dayton area where Sharp wants to build, argued that the developer has followed the process almost to completion, and it's unfair to slam the county's legal door on him at the last minute.

"This county has a rule of law," Kittleman said.

Sharp and the Dayton Community Association, which wants at least 25 homes dropped from his Big Branch Overlook project, have been battling for two years -- and the battle was not ended by last night's votes.

The reservoir bill approved last night was introduced by council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat who wants county regulations to conform to state standards requiring homes built within 2,500 feet of a reservoir to be on lots of 2 acres or larger.

Gray and Laurel-Savage Democrat Guy J. Guzzone opposed grandfathering Sharp's planned development, arguing that he hasn't followed state regulations. "Someone didn't follow the rule of law," Gray said.

In the belief that clustering new homes on a small part of a development parcel helps the environment, the county allows developers to build a home on no more than 1.5 acres near reservoirs.

Sharp and his attorney, Alec Adams, asked for special consideration from the council.

The bearded farmer-developer refused to comment after the vote, except to tell opponents that he "didn't win anything tonight."

That may be because he still needs a waiver from the state to get final approval for his project. The state has been considering his waiver application for a year.

Despite Sharp's reluctance to celebrate, residents fighting him were bitter and angry.

"I feel like the schoolyard bully won," said Peter J. Esseff, president of the Dayton Community Association.

"We're going to be angry with him for the next 10 years," Esseff said of Councilman Kittleman.

"We think it's an outrage," said resident Ed Davis. "Howard County government is bought and paid for by developers."

Meanwhile Jane T. Nishida, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, has suspended the power of the county's Health Department to approve new developments with private wells and septic systems to be built near reservoirs.

Nishida criticized the county in May for allowing dense residential development near the reservoirs despite the state's standards.

J. James Dieter, administrator of the state's wastewater permits program, said his agency is considering Sharp's waiver request. "It's still a work in progress," he said, declining to guess when a ruling might come.

Dieter testified in favor of Gray's bill at a council hearing last month, but he refused before last night's vote to say if he favored grandfathering Sharp's proposed development because his agency is considering the waiver.

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