|Many of you emailed, had
questions, and were confused about the status of Four Seasons. The
following article was in Friday’s Star Democrat. It should answer
a lot of your questions. The State’s Board of Public Works decision
to deny the wetlands license is still at the beginning, pending a decision
at the circuit court level by Judge Sause.
It is critical that you pay attention to the County’s Comprehensive Plan process that is just getting to the public comment portion - and speak out about the issues facing Kent Island because there are other developments starting the process. More information forthcoming.
Md. high court says Four
Seasons maps OK
The state's highest court ruled in favor of the developer in the legal dispute over whether accurate critical area overlay maps were needed at the time the Queen Anne's County commissioners approved the growth allocation for the Four Seasons at Kent Island project.
The Maryland Court of Appeals issued an Aug. 21 opinion, written by Chief Judge Robert Bell, that said the Queen Anne's Code "does not make clear whether amended Critical Area Overlay Maps must exist before or after an approved Growth Allocation Petition becomes effective."
The original plans for the Four Seasons project were submitted by K. Hovnanian Companies in 1999. The current plans call for an age-restricted community (for people 55 and older) of 1,350 homes, an assisted living facility and clubhouse on about 550 acres on the north side of U.S. Route 50, on both sides of Castle Marina Road and Cox Creek, and bordering the Chester River, Macum Creek, and the communities of Bayside, Queens Landing and Castle Marina. The controversial project sparked numerous lawsuits over the years involving local residents, citizens groups, the county, the state and the developer.
Kent Island residents Robert and Carolyn Foley, James and Karen Wimsatt and Marilyn Donovan, and the Queen Anne's Conservation Association filed a lawsuit in Queen Anne's County Circuit Court in April 2005 that asked the court to declare two sets of critical area maps for the project invalid. The suit centered on an ordinance approved by the county commissioners in August 2001 that granted growth allocation to the Four Seasons project, and two sets of critical area maps signed by the commissioners in December 2001 and October 2002. Hovnanian intervened in the case as a defendant.
The critical area is the area within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. Queen Anne's County adopted a critical area program, based on the state's critical area law, that divides land in the critical area into three development categories.
The most restrictive category is Resource Conservation Area, which allows one dwelling per 20 acres. The Limited Development Area has fewer development restrictions, but limits impervious surface coverage to 15 percent of the development site. The least restrictive category is Intensely Developed Area, which allows most land uses, although it requires stricter adherence to performance standards for stormwater runoff.
The Maryland Code defines "growth allocation" as the number of acres of land in the critical area that a local jurisdiction may use to create new IDAs or LDAs. In the case of Four Seasons, the state critical area commission and the Queen Anne's County Commissioners approved almost 374 acres of growth allocation: 293.25 acres of RCA was reclassified as IDA; 79.55 acres of LDA was reclassified as IDA.
Queen Anne's County Circuit Court Judge John W. Sause Jr. issued a judgment and memorandum on the Foley lawsuit in February 2006 that ordered Hovnanian to halt work on the Four Seasons project until the county commissioners approved accurate critical area maps.
Hovnanian appealed the circuit court ruling to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second highest court. The Court of Special Appeals issued an opinion in March 2007 which said the circuit court erred in issuing injunctions that halted work on the project; affirmed the validity of the growth allocation that had been previously approved; and stated that errors in the critical area overlay maps didn't invalidate the growth allocation.
The Queen Anne's Conservation Association filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals, asked the court to hear the plaintiffs' appeal of the Court of Special Appeals' decision. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chester River Associations filed supporting briefs in favor of the conservation association's petition. The Court of Appeals agreed to hear the appeal in August 2007.
The Court of Appeals opinion upheld the Court of Special Appeals' opinion. The Court of Appeals' opinion said "amended Critical Area Overlay Maps do not have to be in existence when, or filed at the same time that, the ordinance granting the amendments reflected on the maps are enacted."
K. Hovnanian's Four Seasons at Kent Island LLC issued an Aug. 25 press release which said "the courts have once again upheld the validity of the Four Seasons approvals."
"We are very pleased with this important court decision which is another step in allowing our community to move forward," Hugo DeCesaris, K. Hovnanian's Maryland regional president, said in a statement. "We want to fulfill our commitment to the seniors that have been patiently waiting as well as bring the substantial economic benefits to Queen Anne's County that go hand in hand with the Four Seasons Community."
Dan Saunders, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the Court of Appeals' ruling "invites manipulation of (critical area) boundaries" between the time growth allocation is approved for a project and the time building permits for the project are approved.
"It sets a rather startling precedent that one can get growth allocation in a situation that is unclear where the land that is physically classified is located," said Saunders.
Saunders said the critical area maps or Four Seasons were never properly created. He said the Court of Appeals referred to a May 2001 plat for the Four Seasons project, but that plat was created after the county commissioners held a public hearing on the growth allocation petition that was based on an earlier plat.
George O'Donnell, a former Queen Anne's County commissioner, was pleased with the Court of Appeals ruling, but not that it took two years.
"I think it's terribly unfair to a business person," he said.
O'Donnell was part of the three-member board of county commissioners which approved the growth allocation for Four Seasons in 2001. He hopes the project moves forward.
"I think the project would be very, very beneficial to Queen Anne's County's tax base, to the tune of $7 million a year," said O'Donnell.
Opponents of the project believe the development will cause more traffic congestion; put a strain on fore, police and emergency medical services; and harm waterways and the Bay.
Both the Hovnanian news release and Saunders said one remaining lawsuit needs to be resolved. In a 2-1 vote, the Maryland Board of Public Works on May 23, 2007 denied the state wetlands license Hovnanian requested for the Four Seasons project. Hovnanian appealed the ruling in Queen Anne's County Circuit Court.
In the meantime we received the following link to read the court opinion: http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2009/35a07.pdf
That now leaves Judge Sause to issue a ruling on the State’s denial of the wetlands license. However that one goes, we’re depending on Governor O’Malley and Comptroller Franchot to stick with us.
Just when you thought Kent Island was safe from mega-development, Four Seasons is back!
Maryland’s highest court has now ruled that the QA County Commissioners in 2002 really, really wanted Four Seasons, and that’s all that counts -- the County didn’t need to follow the rules and procedures set out in the Critical Area law -- it’s what the Commissioners really, really wanted that overrides everything else.
OK, the citizens lose another battle to the developers (but not the war: see below). Please remember, however: those were the County Commissioners who were overwhelmingly voted out of office in 2002, in their primary elections, because they were pushing Four Seasons and other big developments– and who, after those elections, went ahead as lame ducks and sealed the deal, now ratified by the court, to drop 1350 units of rabbit-warren residential development onto Kent Island’s Critical Area between Stevensville and Chester.
We’re still living with what those repudiated County Commissioners did, as the Maryland court ruling makes painfully clear. Battling Bob Foley and other neighbors, with our support, will continue the fight against Four Seasons – a fight that will take years to resolve. Maryland’s Governor and Comptroller are with us in that fight, as staunch allies against Four Seasons and other bad development on fragile Kent Island. We will ultimately prevail!
But, right now, the take-away from the new court decision is this: Our County needs good land use laws adopted and enforced by people who want to keep this County from Western Shore suburbanization. Bad laws and pro-development officials, like the 2002 Commissioners and some of the insiders still in key positions, threaten everything we love about the Eastern Shore.
As we write this, we’re in the endgame on the QAC Comprehensive Plan. The citizens are speaking up, and you’re saying, loud and clear: No more major development on Kent Island, no more cornfield villages on our farmlands.
If your voices are heard, individual citizens like Bob Foley and conservation groups like us won’t have to shoulder the burden alone. Let’s stand together. Keep speaking up: Now is when the future of this County is being decided.
QUEEN ANNE’S CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION
Queen Anne's Conservation
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