Halt to building brought to court

Developer challenges moratorium imposed by Eastern Shore town

December 16, 2004|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE - A developer is challenging a building moratorium imposed by this Eastern Shore town that has blocked construction of about 650 homes because of sewage treatment problems.

Centreville has told the developers of the planned 343-unit North Brook subdivision that they and other builders might eventually be allowed to proceed but that more than half the houses at North Brook must remain on hold until the town's new $9.7 million wastewater treatment plant is expanded.

A building moratorium was imposed in the spring as the Maryland Department of the Environment investigated accusations that rapid development overwhelmed the town's 45-year-old sewage plant, which routinely spilled raw sewage into a tributary of the Corsica River. The allegations also prompted a criminal investigation by the state's environmental crimes unit.

Now, a month after the new plant became fully operational, town officials are looking for ways to expand its capacity from 500,000 gallons per day to 750,000 gallons to handle all the development approved or on the drawing board for Centreville.

In the meantime, officials have devised a growth management plan that allocates the current capacity among residential and commercial interests. Town leaders are optimistic that if approved by the MDE, the management plan would satisfy the short-term needs of developers by doling out available treatment capacity in small increments until the plant is expanded.

The North Brook development, where 100 homes have been built, would be allowed to add 60 houses a year if the MDE approves the town's plan, said Royden N. Powell III, Centreville's town manager.

State regulators have agreed to allow about 45 exceptions to the moratorium for lots that were under contract when the building ban was imposed, Powell said.

Attorneys for North Brook appeared in Queen Anne's County Circuit Court yesterday, arguing that the moratorium violates a two-year-old public works agreement they struck with Centreville officials.

"What we have is the town changing the rules of the game after North Brook has gone to considerable effort to comply with the public works agreement," said Thomas M. Lingan, a Baltimore attorney who represents the company.

Circuit Judge Thomas G. Ross denied a motion for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the town from issuing any sewer allocations under the capacity management plan.

Ross set a trial date in early March to determine whether public works agreements signed in 2002 take precedence over the management plan. The lawsuit also seeks $5 million in damages.

Stephen Kehoe, Centreville's attorney, said the developers of Symphony Village, a 400-unit development at the southern end of town, have filed a similar action and are likely to merge their case with the North Brook case.

The court actions came as little surprise to town officials who have struggled for months to balance the needs of residential and commercial developers - including several small, local firms that have been stalled by the moratorium.

"You prepare for this, but the council had hoped that it could be worked out without going to court," said Norman Pinder, president of the three-member Town Council. "The old plant is demolished, the new plant is running and we're looking ahead. I guess this is just a part of the game that has to be played."

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