Franchot wants to lift Kent gag order

Board should hear officials' side, he says

May 11, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has a message for the developers of a controversial waterfront development in Queen Anne's County: Let the county commissioners speak.

Troubled by a gag order imposed on the commissioners, Franchot requested yesterdaythat the developers of a Four Seasons community on Kent Island suspend part of their settlement agreement with the county and allow the officials to testify at the next Board of Public Works meeting.

The Four Seasons project, a long-fought development slated for the eastern shoreline of Kent Island, has hit a snag at the board where Franchot and other members have expressed reservations about the environmental impact of building 1,300 homes in land designated as a Chesapeake Bay "critical area."

The board delayed a vote Wednesday on a routine wetlands license so its members - Franchot, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp - could study the impact of the development.

County commissioners said in interviews this week that they would like to testify but have been told that if they do, the county could be sued under the terms of a 2003 settlement with the developer.

"It is always disturbing to me to read about how somewhere in the world, the right to free speech and the right to express oneself are being hampered in some way," Franchot wrote to Nancy L. Slepicka, an attorney for the developer, K. Hovnanian Companies.

Slepicka said yesterday that she has not been able to discuss the request with her client but will do so and respond as soon as possible.

The 2003 settlement agreement was the result of the developer's victory in a lawsuit against the county. It was signed by three of the county's five commissioners. All three were defeated in the next election.

Commissioner Gene M. Ransom III, who refused to sign the settlement, said he would love to testify before the Board of Public Works but that he has been advised by the county's attorney not to speak.

"They have threatened litigation if we take any action publicly," Ransom said. "That's why I'm being very cautious about what I say."

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