In an effort to silence critics who claim he stands to gain financially from the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, the Oella developer who has led the project's planning committee for the past several years plans to formally step down as chairman today.
Charles L. Wagandt said yesterday he will make the announcement at the committee's 3: 30 p.m. public meeting at Oella Co. in Oella. John Slater, a Columbia landscape architect, will take over as chairman.
Wagandt said he would not comment about his resignation until today's meeting. But in the past, he has denied allegations that he stands to reap a financial windfall from the project, which would include nature trails, visitor centers and concessions. If approved by the state as early as this year, the project would be phased in over about a decade.
"The basic purpose of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway is to preserve and enhance the cultural and natural resources of the valley," Wagandt said in November. "Now, that sounds like motherhood and apple pie, doesn't it?"
Since the greenway proposal became public in early October, critics have charged that it would bring crowds of tourists to Patapsco River Valley and to the surrounding towns and that it would harm the environment.
This week, a statewide coalition of environmental groups spoke out against the project, calling it "an extensive economic and tourism development plan" that would harm the Patapsco Valley State Park, a prominent feature in all the plans.
Marcia McLaughlin, Howard County's deputy director of planning and zoning and a member of the greenway planning committee, said that Wagandt made the decision to step down because of public perception that he stands to gain financially.
"I think Charles just feels that even though it is not relevant that he is the developer of Oella it's harming the Greenway effort," McLaughlin said. "I think he's an easy target."
She called the controversy "incredibly unfortunate."
Stephen Doyle, a resident of the St. Denis/Relay community who has vocally opposed the greenway project, said he continues to object whether or not Wagandt is chairman of the planning committee.
"I don't have any problem with Wagandt as a person," Doyle said. "My problem is with his proposal for the Patapsco Valley State Park." He said the plan is "environmentally unsound and is targeting quiet residential communities for economic development through tourism."
Wagandt's supporters rallied to defend him.
Teresa Moore, executive director of the state's Greenways Commission, likened the outcry against Wagandt to "a witch hunt." Sally Bright, an Ellicott City activist who supports the greenway, said Wagandt "would never do anything to damage this area."
"I think he was truly upset that people were accusing him of gaining financially from this," she said. Bright said she thinks he has the best interests of the Patapsco Valley and its residents at heart.
"I consider Charles a visionary," she said. "I really do."
Pub Date: 1/21/99