Owner stands firm on land plans

With residents support, she vows to fight for OK to build houses

April 22, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

In a few days, Paris again will beckon to Jane Pumphrey Nes, art lover and descendant of prominent 17th-century settlers in Anne Arundel County.

But on this spring night, her thoughts are far from France, her home away from Baltimore. She's pondering the fate of her 277 forested acres in Solley, hard by the industrial development in Anne Arundel that sprawls north to Baltimore City.

Standing in a Harundale church, Nes tells community groups she'll keep fighting the county for approval to build a 1,372-unit, mixed-use residential project on the land she inherited.

For many blue-collar Solley residents, this blue blood's pledge is music. They see the subdivision as a way to halt creeping industry, even though it could worsen traffic. A giddy Rev. James Kirk says, "It's spring, the trees are blossoming, flowers are coming to bloom. It's time likewise for us to bloom."

After seven years battling the county, Nes' resolve to build the Tanyard Springs development has hardly wilted. She recently hired a Washington law firm to help. Among her claims is that the county gives some developers preferential treatment. She also says the county made her sign a secret agreement aimed at thwarting her development efforts.

County officials admire her tenacity but deny underhandedness and accuse her lawyers of intimidation. The county says Nes' $200 million subdivision is stymied by a key issue: crowded schools.

"Ms. Owens would love to see this project go forward; it's a problem of school capacity primarily," said Jerome W. Klasmeier, county chief administrative officer. County Executive Janet S. Owens says she will not grant school waivers.

Solley residents share the frustration. With Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s Brandon Shores power plant looming nearby and a former hazardous-waste landfill down the road, a housing development sounds pretty good to them.

"We've been dumped on so badly with things we consider unhealthy, you know," said native Casper Hackman, 77.

Once upon a time, Nes, who is in her late 60s, might have been considered an enemy. More than once, she came close to selling the land to industry. What transformed her attitude, she said, was a long fight to stop BGE from spreading fly ash nearby.

Now, she says, there is no going back. She won't relent, or sell the property -- as she says county officials have urged her to do -- and abandon Solley.

"Certainly it's the principle," she said. "And I've put so much into this. Nobody wants to give up when they've put so much of their life into it. What are you going to do? Put something that's going to destroy the community next to it?"

Tanyard Springs is an ambitious proposal. After several years, it would have 179 single-family homes, 430 townhouses, 310 condominiums and 404 senior apartments. Shops would be close, as would medical and other offices.

Stephen Donnelly, a Severna Park real estate consultant hired by Nes in 1995, calls it "probably the most 100-percent compliant smart-growth project in Maryland."

But Nes says the county has put up hurdles at every turn, before and after Owens was elected in 1998. In a 16-page letter sent to Owens in December, lawyers at Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand claim the county violated Nes' rights.

The lawyers point to the county's denial of Tanyard Springs in 1998, in part because George Fox Middle School was full. Although 300 students had been moved to Chesapeake Middle School, county officials said the move was temporary.

But a 28-unit phase of the Farmington Village subdivision -- built by prominent developer Gary Koch -- did receive approval. Why? County officials said the transfer to Chesapeake Middle freed up space at George Fox.

"It seems like a relevant factor is who the developer is," Donnelly said in Harundale. Said Nes: "All I'm asking for is the same treatment other developers get."

A county spokesman said officials involved in the decisions were unavailable. But in a Feb. 25 memo, Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer blasted Verner, Liipfert's letter as "somewhere between a diatribe and a threat" laced with unspecified errors, and said Nes had been treated fairly.

Nes' lawyers also point to November 1998, when the county and Nes reached agreement on roads, water and sewerage for Tanyard Springs. The deal called for Nes to improve roads and pay for a sewer station. A county attorney, Robert M. Pollock, insisted on adding a clause forbidding Nes from mentioning the agreement "in any way," either to the county Board of Appeals or in court, regarding school capacity.

"I just about had a fit about that," Nes recalled. "We weren't going to get approval for water and sewers without it, so there we were."

Pollock said the non-disclosure clause was meant to keep Nes from using the deal to push the Board of Appeals to side with her on school capacity. "I was trying to protect the county," he said. "Any lawyer who is worth his salt will attempt to do this for his client."

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