Homeowner groups support retail center grudgingly


Edgewater homeowner groups have given tentative support to new commercial development at Lee Airport, provided the project adheres to strict design and building requirements.

Although pockets of residents oppose a change in zoning that would allow airport owners to build a retail village along Route 2, the consensus among many homeowner groups is that a deal with the Lee family, which has owned property in the area since the 1800s, is better than no deal at all.

"No one wants to see that land developed, but most people are savvy enough to know that it will happen, and if you have some control, it sort of allays your fears a little bit," Bill Edmonston, vice president of South River Park Community Association, said Tuesday.

Edmonston's community and at least four others recently sent letters to County Council members endorsing a zoning change that would be needed to build the retail complex. That support hinges on a set of development covenants to which the Lee family also has agreed.

Edmonston and other residents, including some from Edgewater Beach, London Towne and Southdown Shores, are expected to attend a public hearing regarding the zoning change Monday in council chambers in Annapolis. If the covenants have not been recorded in court by then, residents may revolt.

"It will be a whole different ballgame," Edmonston said, adding that many residents have prepared two speeches, one in support, one in opposition. "The whole premise of this is that it gets recorded before we go and endorse it."

Once recorded, the covenants would limit commercial space at the retail village to 387,000 square feet, said David A. Simison, an Annapolis attorney who represents the Lee family. Impervious surfaces, including buildings and parking lots, could not exceed 58 percent of the total retail area.

In another concession, Simison said the Lees have agreed to provide a thick buffer of trees and shrubs between the 30-acre commercial strip and the airport, which they hope to renovate with income from the shopping center.

Overseeing the project will be Lee Farms Conservancy, a group comprising residents and Lee family members, which will review development plans and enforce storm water management rules.

C. Van Lee, who manages the airport, said his family is committed to building a tasteful center.

"My entire family lives right here on this property," he said. "I want to be proud of what we do."

The family hopes to build an airport terminal, offices and restaurant, all of which will be behind the commercial complex, he said. Plans to expand the runway have been put on the back burner.

Residents who remain discontented with the planned development said the Lees' attorney scared some community groups into going along with the covenants by warning that if they didn't, they would have no say in future development.

"He rattled their cages and scared the living daylights out of them," said Peter J. Quirk, a South River Park resident who remains opposed to the retail center for environmental reasons. He worries that runoff from the site could further pollute Warehouse Creek.

Art Somers of Leeland North said that when he and other neighbors voted unanimously to oppose the commercial development, he lost his seat on the Lee Farms Conservancy board. "I was kicked off because I didn't support the proposal," he said. "That's real democratic, I thought."

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