Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to the county executive, the director of Planning and Zoning, and the director of Inspections and Permits about the proposed Enclave at Severna Park development on Ritchie Highway between the Brian Boru Irish Restaurant plaza and Joe's Seafood.
The Berrywood community was not satisfied with the process of the Board of Appeals because our voice was silenced from the beginning of the hearing by the developer's claim that "everything was determined at the sketch plan phase," which was demonstrably false. Of course, the decision went against us - we were not given the opportunity to present our case! This is an injustice to the entire community and especially to the professional engineer who had extensive documentation of the significant changes made to the stormwater design since the sketch plan phase.
It is also important to note that Berrywood never had the ability to appeal the sketch plan because approval of the sketch plan wasn't posted on the county Planning and Zoning site until the 30-day appeal window had passed. We immediately met with representatives from Planning and Zoning and were told, “So sorry, but don't worry — you can appeal it at the final plan stage.” We wrote letters and requested meetings and were promised that we would certainly be notified of final plan approval, but in fact, we were not notified that the final plans had been approved in November 2022. This was discovered by chance by our attorney who was investigating a separate case! Where is the transparency when property owners with standing aren't notified of these approvals in a timely fashion? Why does the county consistently fail to follow its own rules?
The project planner for the Enclave testified that the county did not have a plat - either approved or proposed. This absence of a recognized plat made it impossible for our attorney and our engineer to obtain a copy for our team, despite the fact that multiple Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) requests were submitted by several people from February 2023 on. That is highly irregular.
The plat is public information and should have been available to us. The Enclave "proposed" plat does not reflect the correct state critical area line. This plat will need to be revised to reflect the correct resource conservation area line, which will then necessitate redesign of the stormwater plan to move the step pool conveyance out of the critical area. This is not a trivial design change as the developer's attorney tried to imply.
Furthermore, a required critical area report will now need to be included in the final plans. These final plans are not final at all, but a set of in-flux designs that do not meet the criteria that every homeowner needs to follow and thus should never have been approved. The county needs to apply its laws equitably, treating homeowners and developers alike. Going forward, the grading permit should not be approved until all issues with the critical area have been resolved and are available for public scrutiny.
Why was the Berrywood community shut out of our PIA requests and our ability to present our case? Why did a property owner next to the Enclave property testify that she was required to revise her building plans for a single home multiple times to satisfy the critical area requirements and other aspects of the county code while a developer is not held to these same requirements? Instead of another round of, "Oh gee, we don't know how that happened. Don't worry, it won't happen again” rhetoric from the county, the failure-to-notify issue needs resolution immediately.
Berrywood community members should not be second-class citizens in the Planning & Zoning office, where they were told by the project planner that he is “sort of the quarterback for the developer.” That is indicative of the systematic problem that citizens face every time they attempt to challenge a proposed development. The right-to-build is a right under the laws of the county code! The county system is clearly broken, is unfair to the citizens who live here, and needs to be fixed now.
Berrywood Community Association Environmental Committee
Berrywood representative to the Greater Severna Park Council
Magothy River Association recording secretary