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Four Seasons
How to fight developer and win
(this is not over)
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Governor Martin O'Malley 
Comptroller Peter Franchot 

Our say (Capital Editorial):

Kent Island win provides model for local activists

To launch opposition to a development planned for your neighborhood, you need three things: time, passion, and sympathy from someone in public office.

All three ingredients came together for a group of highly motivated activists who waged a seven-year fight against a 1,350-unit development that would have consumed about 370 areas of Critical Area on Kent Island. 

As of now, the activists' persistence seems to have paid off. When all seemed lost, the state Board of Public Works - specifically, two of its three members, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot - dealt Four Seasons' developer a setback by rejecting a wetlands permit.

The developer could still win in court, on appeal. But the citizen involvement shows what can be accomplished by people determined to defend the environment. Mr. Franchot said the opponents' passion and depth of knowledge spurred him to vote against the wetlands permit.

After the original project nearly tripled in size, island residents - including housewives, small businessmen and building contractors - formed the Kent Island Defense League. They initially got little support from their county commissioners, who approved Four Seasons - and, in the next election, got drummed out of office for it.

But even with the arrival of new and more sympathetic elected officials, the activists were unable to undo the previous commissioners' decisions. And the new commissioners - with Mike Koval and Gene Ransom wisely voting against - signed a legal agreement with the developer requiring them to remain publicly silent about the project.

That silence, ironically, surely contributed to the project's defeat. The Board of Public Works was perturbed about being denied the input of the local governing body. But it was the diehard activists who stepped in and eventually convinced Mr. O'Malley and Mr. Franchot. So the state listened when local elected officials did not.

There are lessons from this:

Never give up on a cause you believe is right. Help can come from unexpected sources. It wasn't the commissioners, or local legislators like Del. Dick Sossi and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, who stopped the project. It was elected officials who don't even live on Kent Island, but saw the potential environmental damage from such a large project.

It's foolish for elected officials to sign gag orders. This is an abdication of their responsibility to speak for the people they were elected to represent. How can they do that job when they have to remain silent at the most crucial time?

There were too many activists involved in this seven-year battle to mention them without the risk of omitting someone. But collectively they should be acknowledged for plugging away and making a huge investment of time, despite long odds against their success. Even if the state's decision to deny the wetlands permit is overturned, the example they set means that their efforts were not in vain.

Published June 20, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2007 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

Contrary to this headline – this is not over by any means.  Very important to come to the Kent Island Library this evening – Monday, 6/18, 6:30 to 8 p.m., to meet Comptroller Franchot.  Don’t miss it!

How to fight developer and win 
KI residents holding off 1,350-home project
By LIAM FARRELL Staff Writer  The Capital, June 17, 2007

They come from jobs as disparate as construction and the music business. Some have been active in politics for years and others jumped into the political realm because they saw it as the only way to preserve their pastoral lifestyle. 

And once engaged, they managed to bring to a screeching halt the ambitious development plans of a national builder with an army of lawyers.

They also convinced the most powerful officials in Maryland their cause is just. 

State Comptroller Peter Franchot said the perseverance and passion of those residents was a deciding factor in the recent Board of Public Works' decision to reject a wetlands permit for K. Hovnanian Co.'s 1,350-unit Four Seasons development on Kent Island.

"The advocates against the project were well represented, well briefed, and impressive," he said. "Knowledge is power. And they had a lot of knowledge on their side."

Although faced with discouraging odds -"Discouraging is a mild word," said Burt Jamison, who has run the Kent Island Defense League's Web Site since 2000 - some residents found the effort to be rejuvenating.

For Jack Broderick, a member of KIDL who was on the original board, the increasing development on the island makes him feel like the American Indian in the famous television commercial decrying the poor treatment of the environment.

"I've shed a couple tears like that," he said. "I feel a sense of possible sadness, but to me it just recharges my battery."

Despite the long hours of meetingsand votes that didn't go their way, the large expanses of wetlands and creeks available for fishing and crabbing are worth fighting for, he said.

Mr. Broderick, 62, has spent the past 31 years living on Kent Island. Before retiring from the Defense Department in 2001, he would often bookend his work trips to states as far away as California and Alaska with meetings on the Four Seasons project.

Sitting in a boat and watching the sun set near his home was a "real blessing" that provided relief from his hectic life, Mr. Broderick said.

"This wonderful Eastern Shore, the quality of life, is worth my passion and my personal energy," he said. "There are constant challenges. But it's still a wonderful place to live."

Four Seasons is not the only problem on Kent Island, Mr. Broderick said, but it is a "big piece of a very large pie." K. Hovnanian's work is emblematic of the growth that endangers the pleasures of living near the Chesapeake Bay, he said.

The extent of that growth was revealed in a recent report by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, a nonprofit preservation group, which stated about 160,000 acres will be developed in the area by 2030.

That rate of growth would almost equal the amount of development that occurred between 1907 and 2007. 
"We've decided we want to be a rural, maritime, agrarian economy and culture," said Rob Etgen, the conservancy's executive director. "How … we get there is the question."

Growth is too often seen as inevitable, Mr. Etgen said, and he believes local governments have to step up to counter the traditional way of thinking.

"I don't think anybody on the Eastern Shore accepts it," he said. 
Four Seasons, and the development it represents, is one of the reasons Commissioner Gene Ransom III, D-Grasonville, ran for office.

Mr. Ransom, 35, has spent his entire life in Queen Anne's County, and recalls a time when a community of farmers and watermen knew everyone who lived around them.

"One of the fears is we are changing into a suburban county. The people here don't want that," he said. "There's something special about this place."

Speaking out 

Concerned Kent Island residents, frustrated by the potential environmental and infrastructure impacts of Four Seasons, began to come together when public meetings were held about the project in 1999.

When plans were first floated for the property that takes up about 370 acres of Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, they were much smaller, Mr. Broderick said. Representatives of the site's original developer, Domain Builders, had presented concepts to community advocacy organizations before being absorbed by K. Hovnanian in 1999.

That outline showed only about 400 homes, a golf course and plenty of open space, said Mr. Broderick, who was a member of the Chester Citizen Advocacy Committee.

But once that company was taken in by K. Hovnanian, he said, the project exploded with plans for up to 1,500 homes.   "It just warranted a much different approach," Mr. Broderick said. 

In 2000, two separate opposition groups, WeSayNo and Citizens Against Rezoning the Environment formed KIDL to lobby against the large development.

"This smelled bad from the beginning," said Mike Koval, an original member of KIDL. "We just couldn't believe the size, the scope."

Once formed, KIDL tried to bring the project to the eyes of Kent Island residents, using flyers, e-mails, and petition drives to reach thousands of people.

Members would huddle together at each other's homes, at the local library, and even in the back room of the Island Inn. 

Focussed more on strategy than socialization, KIDL became a grassroots think tank aimed at turning away the blueprints and bulldozers.

The core mission was simply educating people about what was happening in their community, said Nancy Koval, who ran an e-mail list of about 600 people and is married to Mike.

"That was pretty much our whole goal," Mrs. Koval said. "(The project) was just so under the radar." 
Several losses in court, a 2002 developer's agreement signed by several lame-duck county commissioners, and a 2003 settlement that amounted to a gag order preventing the current commissioners from speaking against the project have been tough for advocates to handle.

But Four Seasons and development in general were the biggest reasons Mr. Koval, who works in construction, became a county commissioner from 2002 to 2006.

The decision to run was sudden, he said.  "It just looked like a developer's ticket," Mr. Koval said. 
Although he had never planned to become a politician and says he lost a lot of income by becoming a public servant, Mr. Koval said the sacrifices were worth it to make sure government dealt with development differently.

For some, however, the fight has been a reason to leave the community they loved. 
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Rick Moser, who moved to Caroline County two years ago. 

An adjoining property owner to Four Seasons, Mr. Moser was president of KIDL from 2000 to 2004. 
"It's been like a rollercoaster ride," he said. "We'd get one good thing and then (get) a slap in the face again." 

The trials of Four Seasons should not be misconstrued as a story of residents fighting developers, Mr. Moser said. Rather, the project is indicative of how, even with small odds of success, residents have a duty to fight for their quality of life, he said.

"The government is supposed to do the right thing for us," he said. "(But) the cards were all stacked against the citizens."

Published June 17, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md. 
Copyright © 2007 The Capital, Annapolis, Md. 

Franchot: "...They Are Not Going To Prevail"

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KIDL Web Guy Asks: Will the QAC Circuit Cout overturn the Governor of the State of Maryland?  I don't think so. 

 Write to our Commissioners. qacc@qac.org 

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