Cambridge OKs Blackwater project

Billion-dollar golf resort must now go before state Critical Area Commission


CAMBRIDGE -- Plans for a billion-dollar golf resort community that has drawn protests from environmentalists won approval yesterday evening from the Cambridge City Council.

The 2,700-home Blackwater Resort project - which opponents view as sprawl that would endanger the nearby Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge - now must receive approval from a state commission appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that reviews construction within 1,000 feet of Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

Supporters hope the construction on top of wetlands and farm fields will bring thousands of new residents - and millions in tax dollars - to a city of about 11,000 that has lost population since the 1960s.

"The city of Cambridge needs the taxes and this developer has been honest with us from the beginning," Councilman Walter L. Travers said after the 4-1 vote in favor of the project. "We need that kind of money."

The lone opponent, Councilman Gilbert Cephas, said, "I'm not opposed to having some kind of development here. But this proposal would double the size of the city with just one project."

Barbara Edgar, an opponent who owns a farm adjacent to the development site, said, "This is going to have a terrible effect on Dorchester County and Cambridge. This is going to be the equivalent of another whole city."

The project's developer, Duane Zentgraf, would not comment. But his attorney, William "Sandy" McAllister, said, "We're pleased that the city is moving the process forward. It's been a long time - three years - and it's still a work in progress."

The 29-member state Critical Area Commission is scheduled to make a decision on the project by December, said its executive director, Ren Serey.

The commission has authority to approve, deny or require changes to about a third of the 1,080-acre project because it lies within 1,000 feet of the Little Blackwater River, which flows into the region's largest wildlife refuge.

Inside that "critical area," according to Zentgraf's proposal, would be a conference center, hotel, golf course, clubhouse, retail complex and parking lots.

The state committee is studying whether rainwater flowing off the development will pollute the river, and whether proposed storm water retention ponds are enough to protect the stream.

"Storm water is one of the major issues, and the impacts on the Little Blackwater River," said Serey, adding that the commission is taking extra time to scrutinize the proposal because of the "sensitive nature of the site."

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources defines much of the property as a "wetland of special state concern" because it is home to rare and endangered animals and plants, including the Delmarva fox squirrel and American lotus.

Earlier this year, Dorchester County officials forced the developer to eliminate about 500 homes that were previously planned within 1,000 feet of the river. The remaining 2,700 homes are all outside of this environmentally "critical area," said Cambridge planning director Anne Roane.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has collected more than 25,000 signatures on a petition urging Ehrlich to take a public stand in opposition to the project, said Beth Lefebvre, a spokeswoman for the group.

"It's the wrong project in the wrong place," Lefebvre said. "It's a huge mega-development that displaces a thousand acres of farmland and forest, and it's not in line with the city's comprehensive plan for growth in that area."

Last year, the Ehrlich administration endorsed Cambridge's designation of the development zone as a "priority funding area," eligible for state road and sewer funds under the state Smart Growth law of 1997 that was designed to encourage construction away from farmland and into existing cities and towns.

Some neighbors and environmentalists have complained that the Blackwater Resort project is the opposite of "smart growth" because it's far outside of downtown Cambridge, on a strip of farmland recently annexed into the city.

The developer and his attorney have argued that the project is "smart growth" because it's next to a school and will be connected to the city sewer system.

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