The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its five citizen co-plaintiffs, allowing them to appeal the forest conservation plan for the Abingdon Business Park development.
According to a statement from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the organization “plans to contest the forest conservation plan for the Abingdon Woods project in Circuit Court. If successful, CBF will seek relief for citizens affected by the significant amount of forest clearing already conducted by the developer while this Court of Appeals case was pending.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation originally filed in Harford County Circuit Court in January 2020. The circuit court dismissed the case in August 2020, saying the plaintiffs had appealed prematurely because “there was more for the [Harford County planning and zoning] agency to do,” and that they could not appeal until a final decision was made on the development’s final site plan.
However, Judge Brynja Booth holds that the Maryland Forest Conservation Act of 1991 allows for a forest conservation plan to be appealed before it’s approved and that the forest conservation plan is, in fact, a “‘final decision’ for appeal purposes.”
According to the court opinion, “a forest conservation plan indicates the limits of disturbance for the proposed project and how the existing forested and sensitive areas will be protected during and after development.”
Project opponents maintain that the forest conservation plan for the Abingdon Business Park would allow for the clearing of more trees than allowed by state and local law.
“The developer should have to protect a greater portion of the contiguous forest and the specimen trees,” according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on Friday.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s co-plaintiffs are Cynthia Arthur, Jean and Douglas Bonn, Amber Kazmerski and Beth Shepard, according to the statement.
“We may get our day in court,” Harford County Climate Action President Tracey Waite told The Aegis, despite still being “sad that this possibility has been preceded by loss of such a large part of the forest.”
The Morning Sun
Two separate injunctions were filed in Harford County Circuit Court last month to halt the Abingdon Woods tree clearings that had begun. Judge Diane Adkins-Tobin denied both petitions.
The ongoing development of Abingdon Business Park, spearheaded by developers BTC III I-95 Logistics Center, LLC and Harford Investors, LLP, would result in a mixed-use commercial development of more than 1 million square feet, and include retail venues, restaurants, a hotel and warehouses, according to the court opinion.
Some tree removal has begun on the Abingdon property. After the ruling, it is unclear whether the tree clearing will continue. Joseph Snee, one of the lawyers representing the developers, could not be reached for comment.
In Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s statement, its litigation director, Paul Smail, said the organization’s members were “pleased and thank the Court for its work.”
“We’re not living on the frontier,” Smail said in the statement. “We can’t continue to cut down forests with impunity in the name of ‘development’ and not expect adverse consequences to our quality of life. Every piece of forested land in the state is integral in helping Maryland combat climate change and improve Chesapeake Bay water quality.
“Today the court recognized the importance of the state’s forest protection law and ensured attempts to bypass the law can be easily challenged in court.”