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Judge hears arguments on settlement 
 By: KONRAD SUROWIEC , Staff Writer      02/19/2004
CENTREVILLE - A judge heard arguments for and against a motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the settlement agreement between the Queen Anne's County Commissioners and K. Hovnanian Company, developer of the Four Seasons at Kent Island project.

A hearing lasting a little more than hour was held Tuesday before Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Ross, who made no decision on the defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Queen Anne's Conservation Association and county residents Richard and Susan Moser, Robert and Carolyn Foley, and Richard and Eleanor Altman. In a related matter, Ross set a March 2 deadline for both sides to respond to a motion to intervene in the case filed by Queen Anne's County Commissioner Mike Koval.

The county commissioners voted 3-2 Oct. 28, 2003, to approve a settlement which ended the county's litigation with Hovnanian over the development rights and responsibilities agreement (DRRA) for the Four Seasons project. Commissioners Ben Cassell, R.O. "Nemo" Niedomanski and Joe Cupani voted to approve the settlement. Commissioners Gene Ransom and Koval voted no.

Four Seasons is a planned age-restricted community of 1,350 homes and an assisted living facility that would be built on 562 acres in the Chester and Stevensville area, north of U.S. Route 50, near Cox Creek, Castle Marina Road, Macum Creek and the Chester River.

The DRRA was approved by the previous commissioners in September 2002. The current commissioners filed a lawsuit in circuit court challenging the validity of the DRRA. Judge John W. Sause Jr. ruled in favor of Hovnanian in September 2003, and the commissioners and developer reached a settlement several weeks later.

Queen Anne's Conservation Association, a citizens group, also had filed a lawsuit against the previous commissioners in the fall of 2002 that challenged the validity of the DRRA on the grounds it constituted unlawful special zoning. Sause dismissed the suit in early 2003, ruling the plaintiffs had not followed the proper administrative procedure. The conservation association filed an appeal, which will be heard by the Maryland Court of Appeals - the state's highest court.

Attorney John H. Zink, representing Hovnanian, said the court of appeals will decide if the plaintiffs have a right to challenge the DRRA. "If we win, there is no challenge to the DRRA. It stands as a valid contract," said Zink at the Feb. 17 hearing in circuit court.

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