News
 
U.S. Land Alliance has extensive political, business, 
nonprofit links
By TRAVIS DUNN,  Staff Writer, The Star Democrat, August 23, 2007
 

GRASONVILLE — The U.S. Land Alliance, the for-profit company that sold 271 acres purchased from the Kudner estate in July to Queen Anne’s County for $1.8 million more than its original purchase price, is a business with a low public profile but impressive connections — with prominent Maryland and Delaware developers, current and former officials with the Department of Natural Resources, the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee, the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, and the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation. 

David Sutherland, the president of the U.S. Land Alliance, is the nexus for many of these connections. 

The U.S. Land Alliance 
Sutherland is the company’s president, but he did not found it. The company was first founded as a limited liability company in June 30, 2004, by Preston Schell, a Delaware developer. The initial corporate listing has the same address (Suite A, 55 Cascade Lane, Rehoboth Beach, Del.) and phone number as the Ocean Atlantic Companies, created by Schell and another developer named Eugene Lankford. The Ocean Atlantic Companies promote land conservation through the for-profit U.S. Land Alliance and the nonprofit Sussex County Land Trust, according to the companies’ Web site.

Sutherland was compensated in 2005 more than $200,000 (including benefits) as a vice president for acquisition with The Conservation Fund, a well-known land preservation nonprofit. He left in 2006 to work for the U.S. Land Alliance.

Sutherland said Schell has not been an officer of the U.S. Land Alliance since March 31. Sutherland identified Bobby Horsey, another Delaware developer, as the current treasurer.

Sutherland said Schell originally came up with the idea for the company in order “to go out and do something creative” — or provide alternatives to development for private landowners. Sutherland said Schell and Horsey approached him about the idea of forming the company. He said he does not even know some of the other people connected with the LLC. 

“I don’t know them personally,” he said. “My relationship with them has been on a very professional, very cursory basis, and I believe all of them are from Delaware.”

In Maryland, LLCs are not required to provide the names of members on documents filed with state agencies.  

The U.S. Land Alliance registered Sept. 1, 2006, in Maryland. Talisman Farm East Enterprises, a related company that actually purchased the bulk of the Kudner estate, registered Sept. 15, 2006 — just after the Sept. 12 primary elections.

A company with a similar name — Talisman Farm East LCC — incorporated June 1, 2006. The president of this company is Joseph Johns Jr., the agent for the Kudner estate. Easton attorney Chris Kehoe is the company’s registered agent. Kehoe said there is no relation between this company and Talisman Farm East Enterprises. Talisman Farm East, he said, was created by the Kudner estate in order to transfer assets.

Schell, Horsey, and the Discovery Project 
Schell and Horsey also are involved in a proposal for a huge sports complex, called the Discovery Project, on about 500 acres north of Laurel, Del. (The U.S Land Alliance first became active in Queen Anne’s County with a proposal for a much smaller sports complex.)

The Discovery project would include a 1,400-unit residential complex, three hotels, two stadiums, an equestrian center and more than one million square feet of retail space, according to The Laurel Star. The Town of Laurel has annexed this land, but the annexation is currently being challenged in court by a local citizens group called the Sussex County Organization to Limit Development Mistakes, or SCOLDM.

Sutherland and the Griffins 
Much of the initial press coverage of the Kudner land deal focused on Sutherland’s association with John R. Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Griffin, as well as Dr. Torrey Brown, a former DNR secretary, served with Sutherland as a part of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s transition team, on the Environment and Natural Resources Workgroup. 

Griffin, prior to becoming secretary this year, also worked for Buchart-Horne, a company hired by the U.S. Land Alliance to hold community planning sessions for the proposed sports complex on Bennett Point Road. While the sports complex never happened, the land where it was to be built is the same 271 acres purchased by Queen Anne’s County for $5 million. The county used $4.6 million in state Program Open Space funding and $400,000 of its own funds to buy the land.

Also, Griffin’s wife, Michele T. Griffin, serves as the assistant secretary of facilities operations and maintenance for the state Department of General Services. The DGS handles appraisals for state land purchases, although Mrs. Griffin does not work in that area. 

Sutherland and CBEC 
The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, or CBEC, is the headquarters for the nonprofit Wildfowl Trust of North America, Inc. CBEC is located about two miles to the northwest on Perry’s Corner Road from the Kudner estate.

Dr. Torrey Brown, the president of CBEC, also is a former DNR secretary from the Hughes and Schaefer administrations. Brown and Sutherland are also longtime friends, and Brown also worked for the U.S. Land Alliance as a paid consultant.

Another CBEC board member, Walter H. Petrie, chairman of Petrie Ross Ventures, was involved in another land purchase from the Kudner estate. Petrie is the head of four LCCs that purchased 94 acres of the Kudner estate on the same day, Oct. 10, 2006, that Sutherland’s company purchased about 1,500 acres for $17,750,000 with a $10,000 deposit. Petrie’s companies made a down payment of $450,000 on land selling for $2.25 million. One of these parcels has already been sold.

Petrie is the chairman of Petrie Ross Ventures, a major Annapolis-based development company. Petrie’s business partner, Phillip L. Ross, is also a CBEC board member, although he was not involved with the purchase of the 94 acres. Another CBEC board member, Thomas J. Mulrenin, is an attorney who certified the deeds connected with Petrie’s land purchase. 

Brown and another CBEC board member — John Wilson, principal of the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club — are also members of the Statewide Leadership Committee for Reality Check Plus. Reality Check Plus is a privately-led series of seminars and exercises designed “to develop a statewide vision for growth,” according to www.realitycheckmaryland.org.

Brown and Wilson are also the co-chairmen of the Eastern Shore regional organizing committee for Reality Check Plus. Schell and Sutherland also sit on this 18-member committee.

Sutherland and the MSLF 
Sutherland serves as the president of the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation in a volunteer capacity. This foundation is dedicated to promoting the interests of Maryland sportsmen, and it maintains close ties with the affiliated Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus. Both of these groups are modeled on similarly-named national organizations and are mirrored in many other states. 

A pamphlet for the organization’s 2007 sixth annual banquet lists the following board members: David Sutherland, Bill Miles, John Chase, Herschell Claggett, Nick Deoudes, Bill Gerweck, Steve Linhard and John Roen. The group’s 2006 IRS 990 forms lists Sutherland as the chairman, Linhard as the secretary-treasurer, and Miles as the executive director.

Miles also is the nonprofit’s paid part-time lobbyist. According to IRS 990 forms, he worked 7.5 hours a week in 2006 for $30,040, or more than a third of the $94,372 the organization brought in that year. During an Aug. 7 morning phone interview, Miles was on his way to a meeting with DNR Secretary John R. Griffin.

Sharon Maenner Carrick 
Sharon Maenner Carrick, director of the DNR Licensing and Registration Service, is connected to Sutherland and other local and state entities in several ways. Her home address — 404 Friendship Drive, Centreville — is listed as the place to send donations to the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation. She is identified as the nonprofit’s resident agent on state tax documentation. Carrick said she is a volunteer for the nonprofit. “The mail all comes to my house,” she said.

Carrick is closely involved with Queen Anne’s County politics, serving as the chairman of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee, as well as the treasurer for the Chesapeake Republican Women.

Carrick also was the treasurer for the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign for state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36-Upper Shore. The headquarters for that campaign — the Manor House at 208 Pier One Road, Stevensville, is the same building now being used as the business office for the U.S. Land Alliance.

Sutherland said he was not aware the building had been used as Pipkin’s campaign headquarters. 
Carrick said the Manor House sat empty for between six and eight months before Sutherland moved in. She said she has no business relationships with Sutherland or his companies. The DNR Licensing and Registration Service, which Carrick directs, has no involvement with Program Open Space.

Pipkin said he rented the Manor House for a short time for his U.S. Senate campaign, and he was not aware of who moved into the building after he left. He said he has had no business involvement with Sutherland or any of his companies. 

“This is all tangential to my job and what I do,” he said. 


    Please read:  State, county indirectly funded luxury development

State rolls out land preservation criteria


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