It's revealing when the old guard and the new guard get together— and across party lines at that. There was a moment like that last week when County Executive Steve Schuh, trying to keep money for basic amenities at Beverly Triton Park in this year's budget, held a press conference not at Beverly Triton, but at Quiet Waters Park near Annapolis.
If that didn't tip you off to Schuh's argument, the identity of another speaker would have: former County Executive O. James Lighthizer. The Democrat left the office 26 years ago — but not before getting Quiet Waters opened and having the county buy the Beverly Triton property on the Mayo Peninsula.
Schuh has been stressing "quality of life" improvements, including water access. If that's a priority, it's hard to pick a better place than Beverly Triton's 341 acres, owned by the county for decades, planned as a park but never developed — in part because the peninsula's residents strenuously objected to anything likely to draw more traffic down the two lanes of Route 214.
Those objections haven't died down. More than 1,000 signed an online petition calling on Schuh and the County Council to halt all development — not just the park, but new residential projects made possible by a $31.5 million sewer main project — until roads can be improved. The county's acting auditor, backed by the area's county councilman, recommended postponing the initial $400,000 for design work for the park.
So Schuh on Thursday played the Quiet Waters card, insisting the county had failed to live up to his predecessor's vision by giving in to "a small group of nearby residents (who) view the beach as their private preserve."
Lighthizer recalled that getting Quiet Waters built was "the toughest political fight in my 16 years of politics … But the day we opened it, Labor Day 1990 … everybody in the community, no exceptions, loved it." Indeed, Quiet Waters is remembered as Lighthizer's finest legacy, talked about fondly even by voters who concluded the Democrat, in general, spent too much and bloated county government — there was a reason the insistently frugal Robert Neall was the next one elected to the office.
The modest improvements Schuh envisions — such basics as beach access, picnic areas and a bathhouse-restroom instead of the current lone portable toilet — wouldn't put Beverly Triton in the same class as Quiet Waters, and after many years of public ownership are badly overdue.
We don't blame the Mayo residents for wanting Route 214 upgraded or worrying about residential development. Their views should be considered at all stages of the upcoming project. But they don't have a strong case when they object to a property being made more accessible and usable by the bulk of the taxpayers who underwrote its purchase.
One way or another, Schuh will move ahead with the Beverly Triton project and others like it. He's trying to balance an expansive view of improving quality of life, inherited in part from Lighthizer, with a tighter fiscal environment — and a tax revenue cap Lighthizer didn't have to cope with. The question is: Can he pull it off?