One of the last remaining strips of open land along the southern shore of Marley Creek soon will be the site of a new town-house development.

Despite protests from neighbors, who wanted to turn the property into a nature sanctuary, the county last week approved building 15 town homes off Forest Road.

Arguing that construction would destroy a fragile coastal area, a half-dozen neighbors petitioned the county's zoning administrator Dec. 4 to deny a special exemption and two variances needed to develop the project.

But Zoning Administrator Robert C. Wilcox decided town houses would disturb the environment far less than single homes. Ina 14-page opinion granting the exemption and variances, he concludedthe project met the zoning guidelines and was designed to avoid damaging wetlands and steep slopes on the shore.

"This hearing officeris convinced that the proposal of the applicants to construct 15 town homes would result in a minimum of disturbance to this sensitive site," Wilcox wrote. "If this site were developed with a maximum permissible number of single-family dwellings, the disturbance to the site would be greater."

Fourteen days after the hearing, Wilcox toured the eight-acre property on the banks of Marley Creek. He said he found "no evidence that the proposed town homes will be detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare." Wilcox also decided that town houses would be compatible with the single-family homes in Marley Park Beach.

Margaret D. Brown, president of the Marley Area Improvement Association, disagreed.

"I was very surprised and very discouraged," she said, adding that the civic group is considering appealing the ruling.

Brown and other neighbors accused the developer, Joel T. Broyhill, of trying to "shoehorn in" as many houses as possible on a small slice of land. The residents also charged that Broyhill was trying to slip his small project through on the coattails of CSX Realty, a Howard County company planning a 2,272-unit community three miles down the creek.

After five years of meeting with neighbors and working with environmental consultants, CSX Realty cleared a key hurdle in November when the county granted special zoning to develop 610 acres along Marley Creek.

The developer agreed to comply with Maryland's critical-area legislation, passed in 1984 to protect the shoreline. CSX also promised to set aside 10 acres as a dump site if the creek is dredged.

Although Broyhill's project is only half of 1 percent the size of the CSX community planned near Fort Smallwood Road, neighbors fought a pitched backyard battle over the proposal. Their arguments prompted Broyhill's attorney, Gary T. Westholme, to claim theneighbors were motivated by a "NIMBY," or "Not In My Backyard," reaction to town houses.

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