Organizers of a charity race on the Bay Bridge next year have eliminated the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as a potential partner because the group opposes a proposed waterfront housing development on Kent Island.
Sparrow Rogers of Chesapeake Bay Run LLC said last week that run organizers had withdrawn an invitation to the foundation to help stage the 10-kilometer run next November because people "at high levels in Queen Anne's County" said they would be upset if the environmental advocacy group were allowed to participate.
On Tuesday, Rogers tempered that statement, saying she had learned from friends and business people in the county about the foundation's position in the local dispute over the proposed construction of a 1,079-unit development known as the Four Seasons.
"There was no direct pressure. I didn't receive any calls from any elected officials," she said. She said organizers dropped plans to include the foundation in order to keep the event apolitical.
Rogers said last week that race organizers needed to be mindful of "the people who sign the permits." Rogers declined to identify the individuals who she said had warned organizers about the foundation's position on the Four Seasons development.
In order to hold the bridge run, organizers need the approval of the Maryland Transportation Authority as well as permits from the Anne Arundel and Queen Anne's county governments.
The foundation, one of the region's oldest and most respected environmental groups, opposes the development by K. Hovnanian Homes, which has been the subject of bitter debate in Queen Anne's for more than a decade. The Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 last month in favor of an agreement with Hovnanian that would let the development proceed.
A spokesman for the foundation said it had filed an application to be a partner in the run and knew of no objections until late last week.
"We were told that our sponsorship was too controversial based on our stance on the Four Seasons project," spokesman Tom Zolper said.
He said the foundation was told the organizers had received complaints from one of the counties and were worried about receiving a permit. Zolper said the foundation understood that to mean they were coming from Queen Anne's County.
The foundation had been prepared to provide about 300 volunteers and to use its communications network to promote the event, Zolper said.
He said the organization had no plans to use the race to promote its position on the Four Seasons project. Rogers said she had no reason to believe the foundation would do so.
"They did not indicate they would use the race as a platform for advocacy," she said.
Gregg A. Todd, the Queen Anne's County administrator, said he knows of no county policy that would allow a permit to be withheld because of an organization's position on a local issue.
Steven J. Arentz, president of the county commissioners and a supporter of the Four Seasons project, said he didn't know of anybody telling the organizers the foundation couldn't participate.
"I would think that would be a foolish statement to make," said Arentz, a Republican who was appointed Tuesday to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates. "To tie those two things together would be stupid."
The Four Seasons project has been held up by the state Board of Public Works, which is deferring action on the developer's request for a wetlands permit while it examines a "business relationship" between the board's former wetlands administrator and a lawyer for Hovnanian.
Project opponents say the development would be out of place on the Kent Island waterfront and would contribute to pollution in the bay.
Rogers said the organizers are working to line up another organization with a mission of bay restoration as a partner. She said her group would not exclude all groups that take a stand on environmental issues but did not want to include a group involved in a pending local dispute.
She said the bay foundation did not fully disclose to organizers its role in the Four Seasons dispute.
"I don't think they meant to deceive," she said. "There was not enough information given."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun