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Commissioners disagree on need for outside counsel

Staff Writer
April 2, 2006 

CENTREVILLE ­ The Queen Anneís County Commissioners need outside counsel to represent them in the Four Seasons critical area mapping case, said Commissioner Gene Ransom. 

Three of the five commissioners disagree, saying the board should continue to be represented in the case by Chris Drummond, counsel for the Queen Anneís County Planning Commission, and County Attorney Patrick Thompson. 

Ransom is a strong opponent of the Four Seasons project, but he said whether youíre in favor of the project or against it, the county commissioners should get advice from an attorney not connected with county government. 

"I donít mean any disrespect to Mr. Thompson or Mr. Drummond," said Ransom. 
Commission President Joe Cupani said Drummond and Thompson "have a successful record. Theyíre doing well for the county." Cupani said the commissioners were unsuccessful when they were represented by independent counsel on a previous Four Seasons court case that challenged the developerís rights and responsibilities agreement (DRRA) for the project. 

Commissioners Richard Smith and Ben Cassell said the commissioners should stick with Drummond and Thompson. It would take time for a new lawyer to get up to speed on the Four Seasons mapping case, said Cassell. 

Commissioner Mike Koval said the commissioners might need outside counsel, but another option is to tell K. Hovnanian Companies to file a new plan and a new growth allocation request for Four Seasons. 

Ransomís initial attempt to hire outside counsel failed at the Feb. 21 commissionersí meeting when no one seconded his motion. The same day the commissioners voted 3-1 to have county staff recommend to the commissioners a technical expert for reviewing the critical area maps for Four Seasons. Commission President Joe Cupani said the county was considering either the URS engineering firm, or a geographic information systems specialist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. County Administrator Paul Comfort said county staff would meet with a URS representative to review the work involved in the mapping project. 

Hovnanianís Four Seasons at Kent Island development would include an age restricted community of 1,350 homes in the Chester and Stevensville areas, north of U.S Route 50, near Castle Marina Road. Several county residents and the Queen Anneís Conservation have filled lawsuits to try to stop the project. 

A suit filed in circuit court in April 2005 challenged the validity of the critical area maps for the Four Seasons property. Hovnanian and the county acknowledged the maps were inaccurate. Judge John W. Sause Jr. issued a Feb. 9 judgment which orders the county commissioners to sign correct maps in a public session, then submit the maps to the court for approval by June 1. Until the court approves the maps, an injunction on any activity connected to the Four Seasons project remains in place. 

But thereís some debate among the commissioners on whether the commissioners are required to correct the maps, or whether they also have an option of taking no action and letting the injunction on Four Seasons remain in place. 

Smith said the order is clear, and the judge wants the county commissioners to submit correct maps. But Koval said the commissioners "donít have to do anything." He said the commissioners need legal advice on what the court order says. 

Jim Campbell, a retired attorney and a member of the board of Queen Anneís Conservation Association, wrote a March 12 letter to Ransom endorsing his proposal to have the county hire outside counsel. 

"The judgeís Feb. 9 judgment issuing the injunction imposed no obligation on the current commissioners to try to correct the maps (as independent counsel would surely advise)," wrote Campbell. "Obviously Hovnanianís lawyers understood the judgment this way, because they quickly asked the judge to amend the judgment to enable Hovnanian to proceed against the county in the event of Ďinaction or deliberately insufficient actioní on the maps. In his March 6 order, Judge Sause has now firmly rejected that request, making it absolutely clear that he has imposed no obligation on the county to try to fix the maps."

Original Release Below


February 10, 2006. -- The proposed 1350-unit Four Seasons development on Kent Island was dealt a major setback yesterday, when the Circuit Court ordered both the County and the developer K. Hovnanian not to take any further action to move the project forward. 

In a lawsuit brought by Kent Island resident Bob Foley and other neighbors of the project, the Court ruled that project must stop because no maps exist that accurately delineate the approval given by the County to Hovnanian in 2001 to develop in the critical area.

The Courtís 28-page opinion and judgment leave it up to the County whether to try now, four and one-half years later, to create accurate maps. If the County does try to create new maps, the Courtís ruling is that any such maps will have to be adopted by the current Commissioners in open, public sessions and then submitted to the Court for a hearing on whether the new maps in fact are an accurate depiction of what was approved in 2001.

The Court sets a deadline of June 1 of this year for a determination by it with respect to any new maps.  If none are adopted and submitted, or if it proves impossible to create accurate maps, then the injunction against Four Seasons will become permanent and the project will be effectively dead.

The Courtís opinion contains harsh language concerning the Countyís defense against the Foley lawsuit:

ďThat the defendants persisted in their support of [inaccurate] . . . maps until after several proceedings, in and out of Court, reflects carelessness, if not bad faith.  Private citizens who must expend large amounts of time and money and the judicial system should not be expected to forever indulge conduct which reveals nothing short of inattention to and misapplication of law, a wink at the requirements of the local critical area plan and demonstrated unwillingness or inability to employ the technical skills necessary to provide proper maps.Ē (Memorandum, page 20)

The Foley lawsuit and other litigation against Four Seasons have been supported by the Queen Anneís Conservation Association, a citizensí group working since the 1970ís to promote stewardship of the Countyís natural resources.

Contact:  Rich Altman, Executive Director, 410-827-4880.  (mail to this address goes to all 5 Commissioners)

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