4,600-home project gets initial state OK Charles County development may put Glendening on spot


A map in yesterday's editions incorrectly showed the boundaries for the proposed Chapman's Landing development

in Charles County. This map shows the correct boundaries.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Maryland officials approved the first phase of a huge development in Southern Maryland yesterday that would eventually put up to 4,600 homes, stores and a golf course on a wildlife-rich, wooded tract by the Potomac River.

The Charles County project, which would nestle up against a nature preserve and one of the region's best bass streams, may become an early test of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's ability to boost economic development while also fulfilling his campaign promises to protect the Chesapeake Bay and curb suburban sprawl.

Environmentalists accused the administration of selling out Maryland's natural resources by giving a Chicago developer permission to sink wells to supply water for the project, known as Chapman's Landing.

They said the state does not know if there is enough water under the ground to support the project.

They charged that officials also don't know what the effects will be on the fish spawning area of nearby Mattawoman Creek, on bald eagle nesting areas, on historic homes and other sites.

The tract is across the river and just downstream from Virginia landmarks such as Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall.

State officials defended their action, noting that they have not approved the entire development yet and saying the project is supported by Charles County officials.

The action that appears to have set Chapman's Landing in motion was the decision by the state's Department of Environment to grant a water permit that will allow the developer to withdraw 390,000 gallons a day -- enough to support construction of nearly 600 houses as soon as required wetlands permits are approved.

The developers say they hope state and federal officials will issue those permits within three months.

During the coming year, while the project gets under way, the state says it intends to conduct a more comprehensive ground water study in the region to determine whether there is enough to supply this and other developments planned for the area.

Eventually, the Chapman's Landing developer, the Banyan Mortgage Investment Fund, hopes to build 4,600 housing units and more than 2 million square feet of commercial space, a $1 billion development that is being touted as the largest single economic development project in the state.

At a news conference yesterday, representatives of a dozen environmental and sports-fishing groups said they were outraged at Mr. Glendening, whom they strongly supported in the last election.

They read aloud from a speech the governor made in Frederick just last week, in which he lamented the loss of farmland and forest to development and pledged to control suburban sprawl.

"He has contradicted his own words," said Larry Bohlen of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.

"The message to the governor is, 'Actions speak louder than words.' We feel betrayed."

But Major F. Riddick Jr., Mr. Glendening's chief of staff, said the project was consistent with the governor's environmental policies. Chapman's Landing, he said, is an example of directed growth, in which an entire community -- residential and commercial development, needed roads and other infrastructure -- is being planned.

The development, he said, was the subject of years of review and study by Charles County officials, who agreed to direct the county's growth as a Washington bedroom community to the western and northwestern portions of the county.

Charles County officials, he said, strongly support the project.

"Do you then turn around and say, 'No, local officials, we're going to step on the process'?" Mr. Riddick asked.

Critics, however, said the state should demand a full environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and that no construction should be permitted until the ground water study is completed.

"The state's about to do something really stupid," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Maryland director of Clean Water Action.

"If you're going to build a big city, you have to be sure you have enough water."

Opponents of the project also suggested the administration may have been influenced by a $4,000 contribution from Banyan to Mr. Glendening during last year's election campaign.

George A. Brugger, a La Plata lawyer representing Banyan, said he has known Mr. Glendening for years and has sometimes helped sell tickets to his fund-raisers.

L But he called allegations of political influence "nonsense."

The Glendening campaign raised nearly $6 million and had nearly 100 individual contributors of $4,000 or more.

Ed Podboy, vice president of asset management for Banyan, said it was company policy to contribute to candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, in virtually all states in which the company has real estate "so they know you're out there."

At yesterday's news conference outside the State House, Charles and Prince George's county residents who live near the Chapman's Landing site said the water table in their area is already dropping.

They said the drain from such a huge development will force many of them to pay to have expensive, deeper wells dug.

"The county and the state are not listening," said Vivian H. Mills, who has lived in Accokeek since 1961.

"It is really frustrating and maddening for us."

At least one underground aquifer tapped for development in Southern Maryland has been drained, and Charles County citizen activists say homeowners' wells have begun running dry.

The environmentalists contend that until a meeting in the governor's office last week, state officials seemed to agree that before issuing the water permit, they should investigate whether the Patuxent Aquifer has enough to supply Chapman's Landing and other planned developments.

But after the meeting -- attended by representatives of both the developer and the environmental groups -- the administration changed its position, the critics claim.

Dane Bauer, deputy director of the Department of Environment's water management administration, said yesterday that officials had been considering approving the project in phases all along.

The Patuxent Aquifer, 800 feet below the earth's surface, has more than enough water to supply Chapman's Landing, he said.

"It's not an issue of whether there's enough water or not," Mr. Bauer said. "There's plenty of water."

The Patuxent Aquifer holds "millions of gallons," he said. "How many millions, we're not sure, but millions."

Mr. Brugger said during the past eight years the project has been "studied to death" and that ground water studies have shown there is more than enough available to support Chapman's Landing.

"The test results [from test wells] show that we could pump a million and a half gallons a day for 100 years and, if it never rained in that 100 years to recharge the aquifer, there still would ,, be adequate water," Mr. Brugger said.

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