Seven years ago, when Danielle Dupcak and her family moved into Round Bay, they fell in love with the community for its proximity to the water and the fact that each house had personality. Her home on Old County Road is located on a hill called Mount Misery, which was used as a fort for Union soldiers in the Civil War.
The Dupcaks purchased the lot from a bank after the previous owner lost the property. Then, the bank split the lot into seven subdivisions.
Now, Sikora Development LLC and Style Works Design Build want to build two three-story, $1.6 million homes on two of the additional lots. The homes threaten a large area of hillside, while building a driveway on a slope that is greater than 25 percent.
“You chatter as neighbors and you realize that the development impacts each other,” Dupcak said, “whether it's runoff to a neighbor who is downhill, causing them financial harm because you know they're dealing with water issues, or just increased traffic noise, trees coming down, and pollution to the water and wildlife.”
The property is also considered to be within the Critical Area, which means the land is within 1,000 feet of the tidal waters and wetlands that make up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. This particular property is within 1,000 feet of both the Magothy and Severn rivers. In order to build on this land, the developer had to seek a modification to the Critical Area Law, a modification that was granted to the dismay of many Round Bay residents.
In the original variance filed by the developer’s legal representation in 2020, the developer stated that the two homes will use a combined driveway to minimize the impact on the hillside. The first lot could have 5,663 square feet of lot coverage, which refers to the size of the footprint, and the developer is using approximately 2,724 square feet. The second lot could have 5,359 square feet of coverage, and the developer is using approximately 4,560 square feet, most of which is the shared driveway.
“In total, overall lot coverage will be approximately 3,738 square feet below the amount otherwise allowed with less slope disturbance that might otherwise be required,” the letter stated. “By only using one shared driveway, lot coverage, as well as sleep slope disturbance, is minimized.”
Sue Mead, who has lived in Round Bay for over 20 years, was among the concerned residents. Her house is adjacent to the property where the two homes would stand.
“When they granted it, we were shocked,” Mead said. “It's a steep slope; you're adding pavement, a driveway; you're deforesting the whole hillside. It is a historic site where there is proof that it was used at the beginning of a civil war.”
A group of three to four neighbors, including Dupcak and Mead, filed an appeal to the modifications. Specifically, they are challenging the lot that would include the driveway. They reached out to the Magothy River Association and the Chesapeake Legal Alliance to assist them, and each neighbor paid $250 to file the paperwork. There was room for only one name on the appeal, so one neighbor used his name.
Just after the neighbors submitted the paperwork, COVID-19 pushed the case to the side. The neighbor who had put his name on the appeal had to change jobs and move away due to the pandemic. So, the neighbors and the developer found themselves in front of the Board of Appeals on August 25, hoping to speak. Even though all neighbors had paid for the appeal, the case was dismissed in favor of the developer.
Spadaro believes the development of this land will cause runoff and flooding issues for the neighbors further down the hillside and along Old County Road.
“The developer has to come up with another plan,” Spadaro said. “There's no reason to have a driveway, or come up with a smaller size house, so they don't have to remove that much mountainside.”
The developer has planned to include rain gardens on the property to aid with runoff, but according to Spadaro and Mead, it is going to take much more than rain gardens to fix the problem.
“Rain gardens are meant to overflow,” Mead said. “Then that will overflow into a very busy, windy road. That's why I have safety concerns with this added driveway and a blind corner and safety concerns during serious weather.”
Mead and Dupcak worry about overpopulating local schools with the addition of these homes and the lack of stormwater drains along Old County Road.
“Most people must think we are against all development and I’m not,” Mead said. “I think there's a compromise here because there's a lot of options.”
As one compromise, Mead proposed building a smaller home and connecting the house to a neighboring driveway to avoid disturbing the hillside.
Spadaro fears that Civil War history will be erased if the hillside is destroyed.
The fort, presumably called Fort Grey, housed 250 soldiers year-round and had a spectacular view of the Severn River, Magothy River and the Chesapeake Bay. Spadaro believes that Mount Misery played a bigger part in the Civil War than the public knows, and he is particularly interested in protecting the view.
Maryland was considering joining the Confederacy, but in an effort to not isolate Washington, D.C, troops from 8th New York Regiment were called in to defend the capital. The view from the fort on top of Mount Misery enabled Union soldiers to look at Confederate ships attempting to enter Maryland or Washington D.C.
Arnold residents at the time were not too pleased with the soldiers’ arrival. Spadaro said soldiers were told to not buy produce from the residents as the produced was believed to be poisoned. He believes the neighborhood and Maryland’s opinion on the Union troops’ presence may have something to do with the lack of awareness about the fort. The Magothy River Association is currently working on a living history project to spotlight Mount Misery’s historic relevance.
“This would have been an ideal spot for a park,” Spadaro said. “That might be water under the bridge, but there's no real reason that a section of this property could not be set aside for the memorial for those Union troops.”
Along with the Magothy River Association and the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, the neighbors are going to challenge the Board of Appeals’ decision once again.
“We will also aggressively go back to the county, because I do believe we have a larger opportunity to go at the grading permit, which we feel that this subdivision will fail,” Spadaro said.
On August 25, this group of neighbors was not allowed to share concerns, but they are not throwing in the towel just yet.
“I guess people just need to try and speak out and this is our way of just trying to do it a little bit,” Dupcak said. “Make some noise and see if anyone wants to listen. We feel like we have a case, and we would just like to see the appeal go forward.”