Development plan blocked in Arundel

Fund-raising effort by residents saves Bay Ridge parcel

October 09, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

When plastic surveyors' ribbons first appeared tied to tulip poplar and oak trees in Bay Ridge, an enclave of old summer cottages and modern mini-mansions southeast of Annapolis, residents got nervous. Then they got organized.

About a year later, a few of those ribbons remain. But the surveyors, and all they represent in communities such as this one once targeted for a new housing development, are gone.

Bay Ridge residents didn't engage attorneys or wait out revision of an outdated land development law. Instead, leaders representing the 400 homeowners negotiated a contract last month to purchase the 115 acres of woodland, beaches and bluffs to preserve them.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Maryland section, an article misstated the amount of money raised by Bay Ridge residents to buy property in their neighborhood near Annapolis to block development. Residents have committed to contribute $760,000 to the Bay Ridge Trust over the next five years. The Sun regrets the error.

Although the purchase price has not been revealed, the Bay Ridge Civic Association raised $950,000 as part of a campaign that engaged residents - many of whom volunteered legal, marketing and accounting services - for the past year.

"We've set a goal of $1 million," said Alex McCrary, immediate past association president and leader of the fund-raising effort. "We expect to exceed that goal."

The preservation effort, which matched residents against absentee landowners and their attorney, a local expert in development law, is a significant win for homeowners, said Beth Hickey, coordinator of the Environmental Finance Center at the University System of Maryland. Her group works with neighborhoods to find ways to fund preservation efforts.

"This is, to my knowledge, probably the only homeowners association that has single-handedly done it," said Hickey, noting that the Bay Ridge Civic Association didn't enlist help from local government officials.

The residents did receive a $140,000 grant from Anne Arundel County. They also are considering applying to a loan program sponsored by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The basic work - editing the newsletter, writing brochures, creating cover art, making phone calls and writing grant proposals - was done by neighborhood residents, many of whom bought or built homes in Bay Ridge because they valued its mixture of retirees, empty-nesters and young families.

"I think it's marvelous," said state Del. C. Richard D'Amato, a Democrat who has lived in Bay Ridge for four years and who met with residents to discuss state funding options. "This community is doing in its own way what the state government has been encouraging people to do across the state. This kind of community commitment is really what is going to make conservation work."

Originally known as Tolley Point Farm, Bay Ridge was transformed into a summer resort in the late 1800s. At the pinnacle of its popularity, the Bay Ridge hotel, with a dining pavilion that could seat 1,600, was heralded as the "Queen Resort of the Chesapeake."

Families continued to frequent Bay Ridge until the 1930s, when the Depression made it difficult to maintain second homes. Some families sold city properties in favor of economical vacation bungalows. The trend continued until the 1960s, at which point Bay Ridge made a final transition to a suburban community.

The community's history - and its waterfront forest, one of the last such large tracts on the Annapolis Neck - energized residents to stand up against the developers, Bay Ridge Properties.

"It's definitely been a collaborative effort," said McCrary, who put together a core group of several residents to develop a contract to purchase the land. "There's a lot of talent here."

McCrary said the Bay Ridge Civic Association won't depend on volunteers when it draws up legal documents and finance packages. "This is a big project, and it has to be approached professionally," he said.

The group's business approach led it to Hickey and her staff at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, which helped residents find funding sources.

One of the first things Hickey did was walk the forest. "Oh, it was beautiful, majestic," she said of the woods. "You could really get a sense of what the whole Annapolis Neck was like 200 years ago."

But after the first brainstorming meeting, to which Hickey invited homeowners and a panel of experts from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland Environmental Trust, among others, the civic group was on its own.

The residents began raising funds, securing nearly $10,000 from individual homeowners and friends of the community, and much more from nonprofits such as the Boston Foundation, the Kaplan Fund and the Janice Hollman Fund.

To raise additional money, the residents' plan will carve out 15 lots near existing development and sell them. About 70 people are on the waiting list for those properties, some of which lie on the banks of Lake Ogleton.

Lot prices range from $170,000 to $230,000.

Hickey said she was amazed when each Bay Ridge homeowner agreed to pay an assessment of $250 a year on top of property taxes to wipe out debt generated by the real estate transaction. Once that debt is paid off, the assessment will end.

"It's a big deal, what they did in Bay Ridge, because they got 400 families to buy into an idea that they would have to come together and fork over some money in order to buy this property," said Hickey. "And in this day and age, some people would say, `Well, my back yard doesn't abut this forest so why do I want to get involved?'"

A strong sense of community and pride made it work, said McCrary.

But members of the Bay Ridge Civic Association remain serious. They are rallying for the next step, the purchase of the land, and preparing for another battle, this one over an antiquated development law that has allowed developers to build in old summer colonies such as Bay Ridge without paying for new sewers, schools and roads.

Legislation that would force developers to adhere to modern subdivision laws will be discussed by the County Council as part of a work session at the Arundel Center in Annapolis today.

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