Developer eyes land overlooking Curtis Bay

Residents critical of plan for housing on dump site

October 11, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Stephen McAllister steers his Jeep past a "Danger - Keep Out - Hazardous Materials" sign and a burned-out pickup truck rusting in the grass. He dodges discarded water heaters, one-wheeled bicycles, old refrigerators and fallen trees before reaching the top of a boulder that offers a splendid ribbon of Curtis Bay view.

There, at a confluence of dump sites on the Anne Arundel County border, the one-time Greenpeace director-turned-suburban developer plans to build a 1,000-home development called Glen Abbey. In the next few years, he envisions tennis courts, new roads and a mix of housing to attract those priced out of Anne Arundel County's market.

"If we provide enough momentum, this whole area will go," said McAllister, who wants to buy the dump site and various parcels around it for his project. "And then people will say, `I want to get in early and get a condo in Curtis Bay.'"

The biggest obstacle to his plan might not be the state of the land.

Several residents in Cedar Hill - a tiny, largely African-American hamlet where some families trace their roots to the 1800s - have agreed to sell McAllister their properties. But others see his plan as another example of an outsider dumping on them.

"His idea is to find this mostly old black community, give them some money and they'll sell. Well, that's not going to be me. I'm not the one," said Robertlet Jones, a nurse who recently built a house for herself and her 3-year-old son.

At 35, Jones is one of the youngest residents on Cedar Hill Lane. The neighbors haven't changed much since her family arrived, but the neighborhood has.

Fifty years ago, the Cedar Hill and Morris Hill neighborhoods made up a large agricultural community where rules allowed mules on the streets but forbade pigs in front yards.

The mostly African-American families in the 400 or so homes knew each other well. They rode the bus together to the same segregated schools and visited the same country doctor.

In the early 1960s, state highway officials built Interstate 895 through the community. Then, the Baltimore Beltway bisected the communities, forcing neighbors to drive around the Beltway for visits. Route 10 further hemmed in the community and its three cemeteries.

Such isolation made the 86-acre plot at the base of Snow Hill Lane an ideal spot for illegal dumping.

In 1991, workers with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed 322 drums of hazardous waste, 436 drums of nonhazardous waste and 180 cubic feet of debris and tires - all where residents once picked blackberries.

McAllister, a co-owner of Waldorf-based Cherrywood Development, acknowledges that the 255 acres he wants to build on have many problems.

The Snow Hill Lane site makes up about a third of his development. An additional 100 acres is part of the long-closed Pennington Avenue landfill, which McAllister wants to buy from the city for a park.

But he said most of the largely elderly residents he has approached want to sell their nearby properties along craggy Cedar Hill and Snow Hill lanes.

"This is their retirement," he said. "It's a gift from God."

Longtime Cedar-Morris Hill Improvement Association President Carl Brooks has his doubts. He says the developer has misled residents who want to sell because all contracts are contingent on county and state approval.

He also is angry because neither he nor other local leaders could get a traffic light at Cedar Hill and Ritchie Highway, though McAllister said state road officials might install one for Glen Abbey. And Brooks likes Cedar Hill as it is.

"I like the woods, and a lot of people do, too. North County has developed and developed, and now you can't move," Brooks said.

McAllister's team has made the rounds at community meetings in Curtis Bay and Brooklyn Park. Though the developer has requested meetings with Cedar-Morris Hill, Brooks wants to wait until the county's Planning Advisory Board, on which he sits, hears more about Glen Abbey later this month.

McAllister said Brooks should recuse himself from board discussions on Glen Abbey because of his conflicts of interest: his presidency of the neighborhood group and the fact that his sister, Edna Scott, rents one of the houses McAllister wants to buy.

Brooks has been one of few thorns in Glen Abbey's side. State and county officials largely back McAllister's plan for townhouses starting at $160,000.

"Folks in the Cedar Hill community, in large majority, seem to support this," said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat. "If you listen to the citizens, they think it's good to bring in new development."

Vivian Hall, who is planning to sell McAllister about 17 acres of her family's land, said, "I don't see why it would be bad. They're going to get new roads."

McAllister sees Glen Abbey as his chance to be a crusader again.

After serving as a Greenpeace director in Amsterdam and Australia, the Vermont native took a post as a director at the environmental group's Washington headquarters.

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