Political leaders of Queen Anne's County said yesterday they are outraged by allegations in a federal lawsuit that accuses them of blocking affordable housing and discriminating against minorities, calling the legal action "cynical and inflammatory."
In a prepared statement, the five county commissioners said they are dealing with limited water and sewer service and that they do support "moderately priced" homes. In March, they noted, they tried to hasten completion of a low- and moderate-income development on Kent Island.
Dr. Eric S. Wargotz, commission president, said in the statement that accusations that the county is "insensitive to the needs of African Americans is insulting and wrong."
On Friday, lawyers for developer John C. Stamato, Enterprise Homes Inc. and another builder, and two black people who said they cannot afford a home in the county, sued the commissioners in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. They claim the county's delays on the 218-home Sayer's Choice project in Grasonville amount to a "pattern of discrimination against minorities" that violates federal housing rules.
Specifically, the plaintiffs question the county's refusal in May to move up consideration of allowing sewer and water access.
"This is just a ploy to get water and sewer," said Courtney M. Billups, a lawyer and the only black member of the commission. "Maybe I would like a condo on the Baltimore waterfront, but I can't afford it. I don't have standing to sue Baltimore City."
Anti-growth sentiment is rampant in Queen Anne's County, where pressure to develop is high and voters have tossed out six commission members over the issue since 2002.
Commissioner Gene M. Ransom III, who was accused in the lawsuit of expressing concern about affordable housing being built near his Grasonville home, denied all the allegations yesterday.
A lawyer for the county's planning commission said in prepared remarks that Enterprise Homes Inc., which supports affordable housing across the country, has not been part of Stamato's application.
Stamato has sought to build 168 single-family homes and townhouses on 116 acres in Grasonville, with 10 percent, or 17 units for moderately priced housing. He donated an additional 28 acres to Enterprise Homes Inc. for 50 affordably priced units.