VIENNA - Officials in this tiny Nanticoke River town have given up elaborate plans for annexing 400 acres and allowing enough homes to double the population of 280. Instead, Maryland's open-space program plans to spend $4.6 million to buy two-thirds of that land to preserve it as a "green belt."
The purchase, to go before the state Board of Public Works for approval next week, would still give Vienna the chance to allow moderate growth on a separate 100-acre property if the owner wants to develop the site under the town's strict design standards, said Mayor Russ Brinsfield.
"It's really a combination of things that have created a win-win situation," Brinsfield said. "With the economy so bad, especially in home construction, it made sense to take another look at what we were doing. Then we had the opportunity to work with the state on a green belt."
Environmentalists such as Judith Stribling, who heads Friends of the Nanticoke River, praised the shift in focus. "It seems a wonderful way to go about it," said Stribling. "We had always had concerns about the original Vienna development plan. It still would have affected a lot of fragile areas. This is a vast improvement."
State Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin said the green belt would help efforts to improve water quality in the Nanticoke, a Chesapeake Bay tributary, by keeping the land undeveloped.
Griffin said the new plan for Vienna could serve as a model for other small towns on the Eastern Shore or elsewhere. "They want some growth, but they want to preserve their heritage," Griffin said. "It really could be a template."
Local, state and federal officials, and a contingent of Native Americans also promoted Vienna's place along the nation's first water trail, which will follow the 1,500-mile journey by Capt. John Smith from Jamestown in Virginia, along the Nanticoke and other waterways, to the Susquehanna River in 1607 and 1608.
Determined to position Vienna to take advantage of potential tourism, Brinsfield said the town is moving ahead with a proposal to buy the old Nanticoke Inn (circa 1930) for use as a trail discovery center that could spark the town's economy and provide a destination for kayakers.
"We're just in the early stages. It still has a lot of hoops to go through," Brinsfield said. "This kind of center is something that has been in our vision plan from the time people in the town had come up with a plan."
As part of the green belt announcement, environmental officials from Maryland and Delaware said they have agreed to work together to improve water quality along the 61-mile river, promote land conservation, improve access to the water for kayakers and others and facilitate historical education.
A cooperative working relationship will help the shared waterway, said John Hughes, Delaware's natural resources secretary. "When we were approached, it was the easiest decision I've ever had to make," Hughes said.
Brinsfield began work in 2002, with help from the Conservation Fund, to devise a plan that would allow the town to control its growth and be assured that new development would fit with the town's existing architecture. But as the economy worsened in recent years, the chances for a large-scale development dimmed, making the state's purchase more attractive, Brinsfield said.
At its June 11 meeting, the state Board of Public Works will hear the proposal to use open-space money to buy 276 acres south and west of Vienna. Each of two parcels was appraised three times, officials said. One 167-acre parcel, called Layton Farms, is priced at $3 million. The 109-acre Phillips Farm is priced at $1.6 million.