Editor’s note: This letter was shared with the public on August 24.
I’m not anti-development. In fact, I may be more pro-development — pro redevelopment, transit-oriented development, town center development, and housing for our essential workers — than any county executive before me.
But I’ll fight like hell to protect nature from destruction by human beings. We created a Green Infrastructure Master Plan and called it that because nature is infrastructure, with a value and a purpose that has been ignored for too long in conversations about land’s “highest and best use.”
Paved watersheds, eroding soil, and a lifeless Chesapeake Bay cost humanity dearly. Investments in responsible stormwater management, healthy soil, and life in the bay deliver a huge return.
I’m proud of our county’s award-winning smarter, greener, more equitable Plan2040 and the way our residents, our staff and our elected officials worked together to create it. I’m equally proud of our Move Anne Arundel multimodal transportation plan, our town center plans, and our Land Preservation, Parks, and Recreation Plan. And I’m looking forward to our nine region plans, led by our nine stakeholder advisory groups.
But events of the past week have reminded me that Anne Arundel is a development-by-right county. Landowners have a right to build on their property whatever the law allows. Neighbors, county employees, county council members, and county executives are not empowered to deny grading or building permits for reasons other than noncompliance with county code, even when we’d prefer no development on the site.
Mount Misery is one name for a hill overlooking the Severn River where Union soldiers were stationed at Fort Grey in 1861. Today, expensive homes sit atop that hill, but two lots remain undeveloped. On Friday, [August 18], I got a frantic call from Magothy River Association President Paul Spadaro saying that chainsaws and heavy equipment were clearing that land.
Residents called on me to issue an emergency stop work order, but I don’t have that power. The grading permit had been issued on Wednesday. The developer’s lawsuit against me and the county was dismissed after the developer met all county requirements and the permit was issued. The developer had won the 21st century battle of Mount Misery. It had taken years.
I got an email over the weekend from a leader in the Berrywood community, upset about some things that were said at a Board of Appeals hearing on a project called Enclave at Severna Park. I visited Berrywood’s stream restoration project as it was being constructed four-and-a-half years ago and was warned at the time that the Enclave development had the potential to overwhelm the step-pool system that they were constructing to restore water quality. I’d thought the Enclave project wasn’t moving forward. But it was.
And then I got the email from Arundel Rivers Federation, calling on residents to once again weigh in with opposition to a housing subdivision called Glebe Heights off Loch Haven Road in Mayo. It’s a completely forested area on low-lying land spotted with wetlands not far from the South River. The Scenic Rivers Land Trust had made efforts to acquire the parcel for preservation after our Office of Planning and Zoning had rejected an earlier development proposal, but the owners came back with a scaled-down plan for development. I don’t know whether this new plan will meet the legal requirements to build what’s being proposed, but if it does, we may need to take another look at our laws. This is not the kind of land we want developed in our county. It is valuable green infrastructure.
Sometimes our administration’s stricter application of environmental protection laws works. The Enclave at Crofton, Quiet Waters Retreat, The Forney property by Bacon Ridge, and the new addition to Severn Danza Park are all cases where the obstacles to development were so high that potential developers sold the land to public or nonprofit entities that will protect it forever. We’ll be announcing two more of these wins in the coming weeks.
A lot is at stake in these land use battles, and they can get pretty ugly. My job is to make sure that our regulatory agencies are implementing the laws fairly, that all parties are heard, that we act in accordance with our approved planning documents, and that we support our legislative body, the county council, in making good land use policy.
If we do all of that with transparency and community engagement, I’m convinced that we human beings can live in harmony with the natural world that created and sustains us. If we don’t, we won’t want to live here anymore.