Critical area in Joppatowne

Development plan: Shoreline property with view must have full environmental protections.

November 28, 2001

THE 31-ACRE tract on Cape Knoll by the Bird River would make a handsome addition to Mariner Point Park in southern Harford County.

But the environmentally sensitive land in Joppatowne could also be used for residential development.

The decision depends on the price - and on enforcement of state environmental laws. With wetlands, steep slopes, wildlife habitat and coastline, the land faces significant legal restrictions on development, regardless of county zoning designation.

Those important protections should be enforced. Part of the property can be developed sensibly; it has not been made worthless by the environmental limitations. In fact, the untouched remainder of the property would make the developed portions even more valuable.

The state's 1984 Critical Area law, which establishes crucial shoreline setbacks for development, is a sound one. It aims to protect water quality and wildlife habitat. Yet every developer claims the law is unreasonable, unfairly applied, and robs him of economic rights.

In this case, both the county and the state oppose the development group's plans to waive the legal restrictions. There is no taking of private rights here, but protection of existing public rights to proper use of the land.

Public money may soon be available to buy the land for a park. The landowners are free to negotiate on that option; they don't have to. But if they choose to develop, they should do so with the least harm to the environment and be held to the strictest legal limits.

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