ST. MARY'S CITY -- The head of a gubernatorial commission says he will appoint a special panel to study the state's plans to develop Black Marsh, 1,310 acres of unspoiled land in eastern Baltimore County.
John C. North II, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, made his decision yesterday after hearing from both sides of the controversy -- the Coalition to Preserve Black Marsh and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The hearing was held at St. Mary's College here.
North also said the commission will hold a public hearing on the matter in Baltimore County before it makes any decision regarding Black Marsh.
The state wants to build an amphitheater, nature center, concession stand and a 150-space parking lot on Black Marsh near where it fronts on the bay.
Preservationists want the huge tract of unspoiled woodlands, marshland, meadows and beachfront to remain as is.
The commission, a 26-member panel appointed by the governor, will ultimately decide what development, if any, will take place at Black Marsh.
"We're absolutely delighted," Lynn Jordan, a member of the coalition, said of North's decisions.
Jordan, a Cockeysville resident who has been working to thwart the state's plans to develop Black Marsh since 1989, said yesterday's meeting was the first time anyone seemed to take the coalition seriously.
"It's just been frustrating up until now," she said. "A lot of the process has been closed to us."
The controversy centers on state plans to develop about 20 acres of Black Marsh, which the state and county purchased from Bethlehem Steel Corp. in 1987 for $5 million.
Robert L. Beckett, director of land planning for DNR, said the plan that outlines development for Black Marsh was developed in tandem with a 14-member advisory committee of community leaders from Dundalk, North Point, Edgemere and other nearby communities.
The state believes that its plans, fully endorsed by the citizen committee, are modest when compared to some of the other developmentproposals -- such as a marina, a sit-down restaurant and an 18-hole golf course.
Beckett said the state's aim is to make Black Marsh, which was renamed North Point State Park as part of a special bill signed into law last month by the governor, more accessible to the public.
Besides a nature center and bike and foot trails, there would be a 350-seat amphitheater with concrete bleachers, picnic areas, the parking lot, a 50-foot boardwalk, tie-ups for 50 boats and a re-creation of an historic fountain that existed on the site when the old Bay Shore Amusement Park thrived there in the early 1900s.
Beckett said the pristine marsh area of the property, some 700 acres of marsh and woodland buffer, was designated protected wildlands in the same law that changed the park's name. No development couldoccur in that part of Black Marsh, he said.
Jordan and the coalition's attorney, David M. Plott, said the state's plans are too intense and too close to the sensitive marsh, home to a wide variety of plants, birds, insects and mammals. Bald eagles have been spotted nesting there.
Jordan said DNR officials are suffering from "a lot of traditional thinking. We think Black Marsh deserves more care and respect."