Roughly one month after the Magothy River Association released a documentary about Mount Misery — a historic hilltop in the Round Bay neighborhood — a developer was granted a grading permit to clear the land in August. Now, both the Magothy River Association and the Severn River Association are citing an additional reason for opposing the Severna Park development.
In a letter sent to International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 1563 in Millersville, the Magothy River Association stated that a private driveway has been approved for a 20% slope to access two 5,000-square-foot homes on Mount Misery, which was vital to the defense of Washington, D.C., during the Civil War.
The slope is 6% above the maximum allowable slope per county code. A house fire on that hill could expose firefighters and Round Bay residents to danger, the letter said.
“Supporting the firefighters sometimes does not mean sending a $25 check in the mail,” said Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association. “We should support the union.”
The river associations want the grading and building permits to be withdrawn until safety issues are resolved.
Jesse Iliff, executive director of the Severn River Association, decided to get involved after learning about the issue from Spadaro.
“We’re an environmental group, so a fire code is not something we generally think about,” Iliff said, before adding that the two issues are connected. “If any area would need environmental protection, this would qualify.”
Iliff and Spadaro both expressed dismay over the county granting the variance for the slope after being sued by the developer.
“It sets a bad precedent if a company of people target ecologically sensitive land and sue the county to get what they want,” Iliff said.
In a public letter shared in the fall, County Executive Steuart Pittman said the developer met all county requirements to build at the Round Bay site.
“Landowners have a right to build on their property whatever the law allows,” Pittman wrote. “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.”
Spadaro and Iliff both contend that the slope does not conform to county code.
Having served as a pro bono attorney for the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, Iliff has seen variations and exceptions granted for developments in the past. Although Anne Arundel County grants fewer exceptions for projects in the critical area — land within 1,000 feet of tidal waters and wetlands — than other Maryland jurisdictions, he said, everyone needs to do their part as green spaces continue to dwindle.
“It’s the same battle of the public good versus private property rights,” he said. “As more forests, marshes and meadows turn into developments … we hear, ‘This is just two lots. This won’t break the (Chesapeake) Bay’s back.’ The bay suffers the death of 1,000 cuts. That mentality needs to stop.”
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