MARYSVILLE — MARYSVILLE -- Residents of this small and quiet Cecil County community, where children feel safe to ride their bicycles and scooters along the bumpy and narrow paved road, have lost a legal fight in their attempt to retain the character of their neighborhood.
A judge in Cecil County Circuit Court ruled Tuesday against 29 residents who had filed a complaint disputing the county's right to take parts of their property to widen roads that would clear the way for a private developer to build one of the largest apartment complexes in the history of the county.
The decision by Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth has angered and frustrated residents living along Lums and Marysville roads.
"This will destroy our little community," Chesley Huber said of the decision that could open the door for Chesapeake Ridge LLC of New Castle, Del., to build 264 apartments and a clubhouse on a wooded lot at the end of Marysville Road near the exit ramp off Interstate 95.
The county has moved to condemn portions of homeowners' yards to widen the road and put in storm drains.
"This is going to increase the traffic," said Huber, who lives on Lums Road. "This is going to increase the speed at which people drive through the neighborhood, and that's going to make it more dangerous for the kids riding their bikes."
"The judge basically threw the whole thing out," said Casey Vaartjes, who owns two homes on Marysville Road and is president of the Marysville Homeowners Association.
"It left me baffled," said Vaartjes, 60, who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years.. "It doesn't make sense that the county can just take our land for the benefit of a private company. I don't understand. The justice system has failed us."
He continued: "I'm at the point of calling the people at 20/20," the network television investigative program. "I don't know what else to do.
"They put in that apartment complex, and everybody's lifestyle is going to change," he said. "Our property values are going to go down the drain."
Vaartjes, Huber and the other residents did win a small victory from their legal action, said Michael D. Smigiel Sr., the lawyer who represented them.
Smigiel said he reached a settlement with the developer that requires the company to pay double the assessed value of the portion of the homeowners' property that is used for the road improvements. Smigiel is a Republican member of the House of Delegates and chairman of the Cecil County legislative delegation.
He said the total payment will be about $19,000 and the average payment to homeowners will be "a couple hundred dollars."
Last year, when residents of this community launched their legal challenge to the proposed apartment complex, County Commissioner Mark H. Guns, who represents this area, said he was not in favor of the county taking property through eminent domain "for the purpose of helping the developer."
"It is only to be used for public safety or for improving the infrastructure of the county," Guns said at that time.
His comments gave residents hope of retaining the character of the neighborhood where most of them have lived for 50 years or more.
Vaartjes said that hope eventually turned to disappointment when Guns "did nothing to help our cause."
"I don't know what happened," Vaartjes said. "He never responded to our letter or our e-mails. He made a strong statement, but then never did anything."
Guns could not be reached for comment. He did not return telephone calls to his office and home.
Nelson K. Bolender, president of the Board of County Commissioners, indicated Friday that he would not seek to interfere with the county's condemnation of the property to make way for the apartment development.
He said the area is zoned for that type of residential development.
"I know people don't want development," he said. "But we have got to follow the zoning laws."
Bolender continued: "People complain when we don't follow the comprehensive [land use] plan, and now they are complaining when we are trying to keep the growth in areas designated for growth."
Vaartjes said he would hold a meeting of residents in his garage to determine if they will appeal Rushworth's ruling.
"I would like to appeal," he said, "but that would cost another $5,000 plus. We have already spent about $10,000, I don't know how much more we can afford."
Smigiel said that an appeal would not jeopardize the agreement for homeowners to be paid double the amount of the assessed value of their property, even if they lose the appeal.
Eric Sennstrom, director of the county Office of Planning and Zoning, said the Chesapeake Ridge project would be one of the largest apartment developments ever built in the county. "We generally don't get many projects of this size," he said.
He said the proposed project needs final approval by the county Planning Commission. The commission gave its preliminary approval for the project in 1999.