Leopold seeks to protect wetland

Arundel executive, developer make deal: $6 million for 30 acres

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May 03, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Leopold seeks to protect wetland Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold struck a deal yesterday to have the county buy 30 acres that abut a wetlands sanctuary for $6.1 million from a developer that planned to use it for a shopping center.

Leopold said he will submit a supplemental budget request next week to the County Council to acquire the forested parcel in Lothian, across Route 4 from 1,400 acres of wetlands, forests, meadows and fields along the Patuxent River known as the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and the Glendening Nature Preserve at Jug Bay in the southwestern part of the county.

The land would be kept as a park to permit wildlife to travel between Jug Bay and the Patuxent River sanctuary.

Plans by Annapolis developer Petrie Ross Ventures to build a 260,000-square-foot shopping center, anchored by a Target, sparked fierce opposition from community organizations and environmentalists who said it would cause long-term damage to Jug Bay and not reflect the rural character of the area.

Hotels, offices and retail centers are rising in the western and northern areas of the county around BWI Marshall Airport and Fort Meade. But the sentiment in southern Anne Arundel, where rolling farmland remains the dominant feature, is to keep the hustle and bustle out.

Reciting a statement he made in his budget address a day earlier, Leopold said yesterday in a phone interview: "Keeping South County rural is not just a slogan; it's a priority."

Jeff Shenot, president of the Friends of Jug Bay, a nonprofit group that supports the wetlands, said he worried that the 30 acres, if developed, would trigger a "domino effect" of building that would permanently compromise the integrity of Jug Bay.

As a freshwater tidal marsh about 45 miles upstream from the Chesapeake Bay, Jug Bay is an ideal spawning and feeding ground for 35 rare, threatened or endangered species of plants and animals.

"I am very surprised and very happy to hear about this," Shenot of the county's tentative purchase.

Leopold said he was motivated to pursue a deal after hearing from residents. In an August meeting where Petrie Ross unveiled details of its proposal to residents, hundreds of people expressed opposition.

The deal was struck yesterday morning. Leopold said the $6.1 million is coming entirely from state Program Open Space funds.

County Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican, expressed concern over the price. He said the county typically gets more for its open space dollars, a state-funded program that permits local jurisdictions to buy land and shield it from development. The county received $11.2 million in Program Open Space this year from the state.

Last year, the county spent $2.8 million to preserve 400 acres of West River farmland.

"It's a lot of money," Dillon said of the $6.1 million price. But he added that environmental considerations make it worthwhile.

Since taking office five months ago, Leopold has taken steps to preserve large parcels across the county. In recent weeks he secured 547 forested acres of the 1,200-acre Crownsville Hospital Center for county parkland, and his administration is pushing ahead to obtain the remainder from the state. He has also made a bid to the Navy to lease the 857-acre former Naval Academy dairy farm, with the intention of converting at least a portion of it for a community garden.

With the growth pressures building across the Baltimore-Washington region, Leopold said it's vitally important to preserve as much land as he can now.

"We are only temporary stewards of the land," Leopold said. "We don't want to plan for the next year or the next decade; we want to plan for future generations."

He said the 30 acres, between the Patuxent River sanctuary to the north and Jug Bay to the south, would preserve a greenway corridor for wildlife to travel.

The parcel has been zoned for commercial use since 1952. Petrie Ross' initial plans called for a 128,351-square-foot Target, along with about 600 parking spaces, shops, restaurants and a bank.

With the southern end of the county facing growth pressures from nearby Prince George's and Calvert counties, there was "clearly a press for potential development on the site, I wanted to take action to prevent that," Leopold said.

Petrie Ross officials could not be reached for comment. Robert J. DiPietro, who has served as a representative for the developer's Lothian project, declined to comment yesterday.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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