Lee Airport development stalls

The Baltimore Sun

Plans for a shopping and residential complex on the Lee Airport property in Edgewater have stalled after a county official said he will withdraw a bill that would have allowed the project to proceed after more than three years of negotiations between neighbors and the developer.

The bill, originally scheduled to be introduced at Tuesday's County Council meeting, called for the state to transfer control of a service road running parallel to Route 2 to the county, which would swap it for an equivalent piece of the Lee family's land.

The trade would have freed Florida-based Regency Centers Corp. to bend the road around the back of its proposed 195,000-square-foot Village at Lee Airport, rather than build on each side of the existing road.

But County Councilman Edward R. Reilly said this week that he is pulling his bill and will not resubmit it until Regency devises a way to monitor pollutant levels in the development's storm-water runoff, a proviso of the Lee family's covenant with the Lee Airport Conservancy.

The group of five community organizations banded together in 2002 to oversee the development of the land surrounding the airport.

"When they can show me the development has little or no adverse impact on the surrounding waterways, then I'll consider it again," said Reilly, a Crofton Republican.

Four years ago, the Lee family agreed to shield 61 acres of its property - about half for 30 years and the rest indefinitely from development - in return for the newly formed conservancy's support to seek commercial zoning for 30 acres north of the airport.

"Commercial development was not what we wanted to see happen, but on the other hand, I like the fact that we're protecting 50 or 60 more acres," said John Green, the conservancy's resident agent. "It was an exchange that we made after thousands of hours of discussion."

The bill represents Regency's last obstacle to breaking ground on the center, which would include a 70,000-square-foot Giant Food, restaurants, retail, a bank and a residential building, all encircling about 900 parking spaces.

By all accounts, it will not be easily overcome.

"How do you test the thing?" said David Simison, who has worked with members of the conservancy for the past eight years as the Lees' attorney.

"Nobody [at Regency] has ever heard of a monitoring system like this. If there's some reasonable way of testing the stuff, we're open to it."

Reilly was unsympathetic. If Regency didn't have a system in mind, he said, "then they shouldn't have agreed to it in the covenants."

Regency's storm-water management plan, which the conservancy approved in July, limits impervious surface - land solidified by either pavement or buildings - to 53.5 percent.

The county, by comparison, allows up to 80 percent.

The covenant also calls for a system of ponds filled with vegetation to collect runoff water and filter it before it reaches the watershed.

"It's a very good plan, but there are a couple of people who have fought this thing from the very beginning," said Joan Scott, the conservancy's vice chairwoman.

Scott, who with other Edgewater residents has been working since 1996 to restrict development on the land surrounding the airport, said that Regency had satisfied all covenants' requirements up to this point and that withdrawing the legislation appeared heavy-handed.

"It's a political thing. Elections are coming up," she said.

In fact, Reilly's gesture was well-received by many, particularly in communities along Warehouse Creek - the eventual destination for much of the area's runoff.

"The communities around Warehouse Creek were meant to get protections out of the covenants," said Peter Quirk, who represents the South River Park community in the conservancy. "Ed Reilly has been keeping a close eye on these issues."

But after more than three years of dialogue about a project that has never moved beyond a sheaf of site plans and zoning applications, the bill didn't seem to ruffle Simison.

"Just another step," he said.

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