Land developers' sudden stoppage angers residents


Already, Joseph Stonestreet is tired of driving by the 80 acres at Route 2 and Central Avenue that developers stripped of trees for a project they now say they can't afford to finish.

And he has at least two years to stare at the barren clearings before Friendswood Development Corp., of Houston, resumes work on South River Colony, a 1,400-acre project.

Friendswood began clearing the land last summer to build a commercial center and golf course. But company officials decided last month to halt work because of the stagnant economy.

"Before you cut the land all up, you should pay attention to the economy," griped Joseph Stonestreet, 32, who lives across from the site. "Housing real estate has been steadily going into the hole three years before they did this. They should've done their homework more thoroughly."

Randy Raudabaugh, Friendswood's Maryland manager, said the developer had hoped the economy would turn around. When it didn't, the corporation decided to put the $15 million it would have used to finish South River Colony "into places where we're more confident we'll get a return, " he said.

"There's a soft market here. We'll reassess the situation over the next two years," Mr. Raudabaugh said.

Many neighbors are angry that the trees were cleared with nothing to show for it.

"They clean things out so it doesn't interfere with their construction," said Ted Coleman, 59, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years. "It's a shame the government allows it. In Montgomery County, the environmental people won't let them take the trees down."

John West, 40, complained that Friendswood "bought that property and it's going to sit here, a mess. What can you do?"

Allen Stowe, 27, who lives across Route 2 from the cleared property, said his neighbors fear the project will never be finished.

"I wish they'd hurry," he said. "I'd like to play on that golf course."

Other neighbors were skeptical that the developer could find enough buyers, even in a strong economy, for the 300 $300,000 homes planned for the subdivision.

The project includes plans for a maximum of 900 homes, including the 300 single-family homes, 200 town homes and 400 condominiums, plus a golf course and country club, Mr. Raudabaugh said.

However, while environmental and community groups are protesting the developer's decision, some residents said they don't even notice the cleared property.

"I just don't really care," said James Stockett, 37, who lives on an end house off Mayo Road, across from the project. "There are trees up between us and them, and I don't notice."

One resident, Irene Olney, 90, whose house backs directly onto the planned development, said she's glad the trees are gone. "I like the cleared-off land more," she said. "I feel more safe than z zTC did with all those trees around."

Before Friendship halts work entirely, however, the storm water management system will be completed and the cleared ground stabilized and seeded with grass, Mr. Raudabaugh said.

He said the developers won't let the property sit idle for long.

"We have dozens of permits that expire in the future at various times," he said. "Our wetlands permit expires within a couple of years unless we do something to extend it. Our approval from the county will expire in 10 to 12 years. You can't let it sit there and not do anything with it."

"I know people who supported the project now are upset," Mr. Raudabaugh added. "No one is as disappointed as I am to make this decision."

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