Four Seasons development clears another hurdle
CHESTER — The proposed Four Seasons housing development, tied up in court for years, has cleared a major legal hurdle, possibly paving the way for construction on Castle Marina Road.
Retired Judge John W. Sause Jr. of the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County has affirmed the state Board of Public Works’ decision to issue a wetlands license, which the project required. The judge issued the ruling on Sept. 19.
The wetlands license allows the developer, K. Hovnanian Homes, to install a sewer line under the Cox Creek, construct a community pier, and for stormwater management.
Construction can now begin on phase one of the project, which is 162 residential units, a mix of single-family homes and condominiums, already approved by the Planning Commission, said Steven Cohoon, public facilities planner for the Queen Anne’s County.
The total project, done in phases, is 1,079 residential units for 55 and older persons.
Four Seasons has a valid wetlands license, Cohoon said, and the court said the license was correctly issued. “They can move forward with construction at this point,” Cohoon said.
The developer only needs bonds and to record the subdivision plat with the county before construction can begin, he said.
When reached for comment, a representative of the developer made a short statement. “We are pleased with the [judge’s] decision. It’s what we expected. As far as the next step, we are awaiting the Board of Appeals’ written decision,” said Mike Irons, vice president of land development for K. Hovnanian Homes.
Irons is referring to county’s Board of Appeals who, this past August, dismissed an appeal by the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association and instead approved the subdivision and site plan for phase one of the development, upholding the earlier decision by the Planning Commission.
The Circuit Court judge’s decision deals with a petition filed in December 2015 seeking to overturn the Board of Public Works’s approval of the wetlands license. The petitioners included the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, the Chester River Association, and two private residents, Robert W. Foley and Hal Fischer, who both live near the proposed project.
In its petition, the groups asked the Circuit Court to reverse the Board of Public Works’s decision for the wetlands license, and “award the petitioners all costs, and for all other just and proper relief.”
The petition, when talking about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, asks the court to set aside the license and remand it back to the board with instructions to deny the license or amend it to “reduce the impacts to state wetlands and introduction of nutrient, sediment and bacteria pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and local streams.”
When reached for comment, Tom Zolper, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the group is still reviewing the decision from the Circuit Court judge and determining the group’s next step.
The judge’s decision is 65 pages long with several references to other long documents.
If the Chesapeake Bay Foundation decides to appeal the Circuit Court judge’s ruling, it would be heard by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
The issue of the wetlands license and the litigation that followed dates back 17 years.
The developer applied for a wetlands license in 1999 and the Board of Public Works denied the application. Then the developer sought judicial review of the denial and the matter was ultimately remanded back to the board for further consideration by the state Court of Appeals.
A revised license proposal was submitted to the board in 2013, but the board deferred action and the developer sought a court order in 2014 to compel the board to vote promptly on the license application. The Court of Appeals returned the application to the board for processing and, in November 2015, the board voted 2-to-1 to approve the license.
And then the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the other groups filed for a judical review of the board’s decision in December 2015 with the Circuit Court. Then this past Sept. 19, the judge affirmed the board’s decision, making the wetlands license valid.
An artist’s rendering of the entrance to the proposed Four Seasons development is shown.