ANNAPOLIS – Opponents of a proposed 3,200-home development south of Cambridge near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge brought their fight to Annapolis Tuesday, asking the General Assembly to block all or part of a planned resort community they say will damage the fragile environment near the refuge.
But their request touched off an angry reaction from Eastern Shore senators who accused the development’s opponents of asking the Legislature to meddle in local affairs and of ignoring established planning and zoning procedures.
“You basically just want to stymie growth in Cambridge and Dorchester County,” Senator Richard F. Colburn, R-Eastern Shore, whose district includes the proposed development, heatedly told Senator Jim Brochin, D – Baltimore County. “Have you ever been there? How many times?”
Brochin sponsored the legislation that would prohibit zoning changes to allow for intense development of land within 1,000 feet of a major tidal tributary of a national wildlife refuge.
“The biggest threat right now to the health of the Chesapeake Bay is this development,” Brochin said.
U.S. Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R – Eastern Shore, joined Brochin, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and many Dorchester County residents in support of the bill.
“I’m not going to say tear down all the buildings in Ocean City,” Gilchrest said. “I just don’t think we need to add to the impervious surfaces . . . in the last 20 years we have a better understanding of what nature’s design is and how we can work better with nature’s design.”
The bill would force developer Egypt Road LLC to amend its plans for the 1,080-acre Blackwater Resort Communities project to exclude 313 acres in the Critical Area buffer zone along the banks of the Little Blackwater River, which runs into the Blackwater refuge.
The Critical Area, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Kim Coble says, is essential to keeping chemicals and sediments from running into the river and, eventually, into the refuge, where they would cause irreparable harm.
The development planned for the 313 acres in the Critical Area, which, along with the rest of the development, is in the last stages of local approval, includes the construction of a public golf course, a 100-room hotel and conference center, a retail center and 189 homes.
William “Sandy” McAllister, a lawyer for Egypt Road LLC developer Duane Zentgraf, emphasized that the land near the Little Blackwater River is essential to the project, and that if the land is not allocated for growth, one of the most important aspects of the project’s appeal would be ruined.
“The area adjacent to the Little Blackwater River is an integral part of our holistic approach to the project.” McAllister said. “By definition it has to be in a beautiful area, it has to attract people.
Ken Usah, a planner for Egypt Road LLC, contends that the golf course will create that important “buffer” between the development and the river.
However, Dr. Laura Murray, a wetland ecologist who taught classes on wetlands at the University of Maryland and at Salisbury University, disagreed.
“When flooding occurs,” Murray said, “chemicals on the golf course will make their way to the Little Blackwater River.”
Colburn and other Dorchester legislators led the opposition to Brochin’s bill, citing the advantages the development will bring to the district, including a $7.5 million increase in annual property tax revenue, and improvements to area parks, water systems and sewer systems, as well as concerns about the precedent it might set.
“Dorchester’s population has been 30,000 since the Fifties. We’re hoping for a little bit of growth,” Colburn said. “It’s a good project to provide housing and development opportunities.”
Delegate Jeannie Haddaway, R – Lower Shore, who also represents Dorchester County, said she was very concerned with the bill’s affect on future development in the state, arguing that decisions on planning and zoning issues need to be analyzed at the local level. “This bill sets a very dangerous precedent,” she said, “that anytime someone wants to challenge a project in your district…they can bring it to Annapolis.”