Lawsuit targets Shore project

Bay group, farmers seek to stop resort county is allowing near Blackwater

March 21, 2006|By TOM PELTON | TOM PELTON,SUN REPORTER

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a group of Dorchester County farmers filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging the county's decision to allow a $1 billion resort, conference center and 3,200 homes on environmentally sensitive land near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The petition, filed in Dorchester County Circuit Court, asks for a review of the County Council's decision of Feb. 21 to allow a change in a designation for 313 acres of farmland from a "resource conservation area" to an "intensely developed area."

"I just hope this appeal will slow things down and turn some heads around," said Barbara Edgar, whose family has farmed land next to the proposed 1,080-acre Blackwater Resort development site since 1885. "It's important because our farmland will soon be gone. This is the wrong development in the wrong place."

Jon Mueller, director of litigation for the nonprofit environmental organization, said the county broke the law by failing to perform studies on storm water runoff, the impact on wildlife and possible flooding before approving the land use.

Will Baker, president of the foundation, said that paving over the well-managed farmland would create a "hard funnel" that would flush "toxic laden storm water" into the nearby Little Blackwater River, and then the Chesapeake Bay.

"This was not land that the residents of Cambridge or Dorchester County, through the planning process, had designated for growth," Baker said. "It was designated for agriculture. This is happening all over the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where we are seeing loss of agricultural land not according to plan, but following the profit motive of developers."

Charles "Chip" MacLeod, a private attorney serving as legal counsel for Dorchester County in this case, said he could not comment on the foundation's allegations because he had not seen the lawsuit. "I think the county acted with the best interests of the citizens, and in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations," MacLeod said.

William "Sandy" McAllister, attorney for developer Duane Zentgraf, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Cambridge Mayor Cleveland Rippons, whose city annexed the farmland in order to allow the development, called the legal challenge a "frivolous lawsuit." He said the project will benefit the local governments enormously, contributing almost $25 million in impact fees to the city and county, along with land to build a school and $2 million to build a public safety building.

Ricky Travers, a County Council member who voted for the growth, disputed the claim that the county didn't perform enough studies or require enough environmental protections from the developer. "Everything was handled 110 percent the way it was supposed to be done," Travers said.

The Blackwater Resort project still needs approval by the Cambridge City Council and the Maryland Critical Area Commission, a majority of whose members are appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. About a third of the development site, or 313 acres, is classified as a "resource conservation area" by the state's critical area law because it lies within 1,000 feet of a Chesapeake tributary.

The county and city recently required that the developer move about 180 proposed homes out of the critical area and pay for water quality studies.

But they allowed him to proceed with plans to build a golf course and conference center among wetlands in the critical area.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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