Objection to wetlands plan is filed

Owners want to fill in area to develop Odenton town center


April 22, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Odenton's 35-year-old town center plan, long beset by delays, may face yet another setback: organized opposition to its request to fill in wetlands.

The two major landowners of the parcel near Routes 175 and 32 have applied for permits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment to fill 7 acres of nontidal wetlands for part of the mixed-use development.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Sierra Club and the Severn River Association filed objections to the permit, according to Walter Washington Jr., the chief of one of the Maryland regulatory branches at the Corps' Baltimore office.

Washington said his office will consider the groups' objections when deciding whether to grant the permit to Reliable Contracting Co. Inc. and the Halle Cos., the town center's landowners. He said he did not know when the Corps would decide.

Department of the Environment spokesman Richard McIntire said his agency expects to make a decision by early next month. To fill the wetlands, the developers would need permits from the corps and his department, McIntire said.

The opposition marks a setback in the long-delayed plans to build a mixed-used commercial and residential development in one of Anne Arundel County's designated growth areas. The town center, conceived in the 1960s, is designed to connect fast-growing Odenton's busy MARC station to a shopping core with easy access to hiking and biking trails and its historic district.

"To have these agencies oppose the permit is really kind of just maddening," said Doreen Strothman, chairwoman of the Odenton Town Plan Oversight Committee, which has been meeting with the county regularly to finalize the project. "To this layperson, it seems like a very reasonable application."

The project, which is to include offices, shops and residences, calls for filling about 3 acres of nontidal wetlands that drain into the Patuxent River for a development site near Routes 175 and 32, and a connecting road.

The remaining 4 acres, which drain into the Severn, would be filled to create road crossings that would connect Town Center Boulevard to the MARC station.

Severn River Association President Duane Wilding said the group voiced its opposition two years ago but decided to file a formal objection with the corps because members felt their concerns were ignored.

"It may come down that, unfortunately, they're going to be destroyed for the sake of the project, but we would at least like to talk to them to make sure there's no other choice," he said. "We acknowledge that development is going to happen in the Severn River watershed, but we want to work with developers to make sure it's done in the most environmentally conscious way."

The developers could build the town center without the permit. But Strothman and others fear that without the road connectors, the project would be built piecemeal and the result would be a hodgepodge of mixed-use properties.

"There's a reason for it. It's to eliminate sprawl," said Jay Winer, a longtime Odenton activist and developer who is trying to lure businesses to the town center.

Since regulators rejected a similar permit to fill nontidal wetlands eight years ago, county planners say, they have worked closely with environmental advocacy groups and regulators to mitigate the effects on wetlands.

The old permit application addressed wetlands on a 30-acre parcel that Reliable owns. The new application takes a look at the whole town center project and includes land preservation and wetland buffers, said Rich Josephson, county long-range planning administrator.

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