Neall pressured on protection of waterfront environment


Opponents of the construction of 153 town houses slated for the Little Magothy River urged County Executive Robert R. Neall yesterday to step up enforcement of environmental rules on waterfront development.

About 60 advocates of stricter Critical Area rules gathered in the early morning on a dead-end street leading to the proposed Woods Landing II subdivision, protesting its December 1991 approval by the county Office of Planning and Zoning.

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area law requires more environmentally sensitive development within 1,000 feet of the bay and its tributaries.

Mr. Neall said Friday he would propose stricter development rules to the County Council within a few weeks and review the planning office's enforcement policies. But he refused to reverse the planning office's approval of Woods Landing II and Back Bay Beach, another waterfront development that opponents say was approved despite environmental rules. Approval of both developments has been appealed.

The executive has said those decisions were appropriate based on laws in effect at the time. He declined to comment specifically on the two subdivisions.

Frustrated by constant public criticism of his 2-year-old administration for those two decisions, Mr. Neall called reporters to his Annapolis office Friday to outline the schedule under which the reforms will be drafted and to defend the existing law.

"Our law isn't perfect, but it isn't so bad either," Mr. Neall said. "I don't think the public understands that we have one of the best programs in the state."

On a scale from one to 10, Mr. Neall ranked the county ordinance "an eight or nine that we're trying to get up to a 9 1/2 ."

Organizers of yesterday's rally invited Mr. Neall to address the protesters. Mr. Neall did not attend because he had a prior medical appointment, a spokeswoman said.

Yesterday's was the second rally in three weeks organized by the Anne Arundel Rivers Coalition, which includes activists from JTC the county's major watersheds. Organizers say they hope to generate enough political pressure to push reforms through the County Council and make Mr. Neall reconsider his decision on Back Bay Beach and Woods Landing II.

"He keeps saying those decisions were made during another administration, another time," said Peg Burroughs, a member of the West River Federation fighting the Back Bay development. "We're saying, 'Instead of using your legal people to [uphold] that decision, why not use those bright legal minds to find a way out of it.' "

County Councilwoman Diane Evans, an Arnold Republican, and Councilwoman Virginia Claggett, a West River Democrat, joined the protesters. Ms. Evans, elected to the council two years ago, said "I share the concerns, anger and frustration the residents here are feeling over this. The previous council created numerous land-use mines in the Broadneck area, and Woods Landing II has now exploded."

Ms. Evans and Ms. Claggett agreed little can be done politically to stop the development of Woods Landing II.

"Back Bay Beach is going to be another casualty," Ms. Evans said. But "we can make sure there are no future problems."

State Sen. Gerald Winegrad, an Annapolis Democrat, lauded the residents who have sued to stop both developments. "I'm not proud to be in political office when I have to face groups like you, because the county is violating the state's Critical Area law."

A county-appointed panel is expected to recommend changes to the county's ordinance within two weeks, said Joe Elbrich, the county's chief environmental planner.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad