By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun
9:24 PM EDT, July 23, 2013
Opponents of a giant housing development proposed for Kent Island have opened a new front in their battle to stop the project — questioning the ethics of a county commissioner who supports the proposal.
Robert Foley, a 40-year resident of Kent Island, said he filed a complaint Monday with the Queen Anne's County Ethics Commission. It alleges that Steven Arentz, president of the all-Republican Board of County Commissioners, has a conflict of interest that should have prevented him from taking part in the 3-2 vote by which the commissioners approved the developer's request for the wetlands permit needed to proceed.
The 1,079-unit Four Seasons development would be the largest ever in Maryland within the so-called critical area bordering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The project has been the subject of bitter opposition from some environmentalists and Kent Island residents.
The issue of whether to grant the permit to build a pier and install an underwater sewer main will go before the state Board of Public Works on Wednesday. The board, led by Gov. Martin O'Malley, rejected such a request in 2007, but New Jersey-based developer K. Hovnanian appealed in court.
In a decision last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the board had exceeded its powers by considering the overall environmental merits of the project. The court told the board to review the application taking into account only the narrow issues of the permit.
Foley, a longtime opponent of the project, said he did not file the complaint expecting it to influence the board's decision.
Foley's complaint alleges that Arentz would be "greatly enriched" if the Four Seasons project were built because the commissioner owns a commercial building within a few hundred yards of the site that is rented to two restaurants. Foley wrote that if the development is built, the property "could be closely surrounded by an additional one thousand and seventy-nine hungry couples."
In addition to the complaint, Foley filed a request for an advisory opinion from the commission on whether Arentz should be required to sit out any future votes involving Four Seasons.
Arentz said he sees no conflict. "I stand to gain nothing more than any other citizen in this county who has a business," he said.
Arentz said that his position as commissioner is a part-time job that pays less than $20,000 a year and that he, like the other commissioners, has to earn an outside living. He said that after he became aware of a similar allegation raised last week, he asked the Ethics Commission on Friday to advise him whether it views his ownership of the property as a conflict.
"If the Ethics Commission feels I do have something to worry about, I'll recuse myself," Arentz said.
Whether the ethics filing will have any impact on the board's action is unclear.
Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, would not rule out taking the allegation into account.
"The governor will consider all of the information, including this," she said.
A spokesman for Comptroller Peter Franchot, who joined O'Malley in opposing the project in 2007, said his boss is still reviewing the case.
"He is not questioning the motives of anyone involved and is considering the issue on its merits," said spokesman Andrew Friedson.
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