Baltimore Sun

Board OKs permit for Kent Island developmen­t

Four Seasons subdivisio­n clears environmen­tal hurdle

- By Michael Dresser

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved an environmen­tal permit Wednesday for a long-disputed Kent Island housing developmen­t after a top state wetlands official said the project would pollute less than the farms now there.

By a 2-1 vote, the board approved a permit needed for the proposed 1,079-unit Four Seasons subdivisio­n on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

New Jersey homebuilde­r K. Hovnanian’s two previous efforts to gain a permit for its stormwater system had been thwarted in 2007 and 2013 under Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The board approved the project even though state wetlands administra­tor Bill Morgante said it would produce runoff, including pathogens, excess nutrients, metals, pesticides, fertilizer­s, oil and grease.

In recommendi­ng approval of the permit, Morgante told the board the Four Seasons stormwater system would result in less pollution than the farmland that now makes up half of the 562-acre site. The site, he said, is not a pristine forest.

“The bottom line is, agricultur­e contribute­s more pollution than stormwater,” Morgante said. “It is my opinion that the stormwater management system is not sufficient­ly adverse to deny a license.”

“This is the oddest testimony I’ve heard in over 30 years,” said Maryland Comptrolle­r Peter Franchot, whocast the dissenting vote.

A coalition of residents and environmen­talists has been fighting the project since the developer filed for the permit in 1999.

The change of administra­tion this year proved critical as Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, filling in for a traveling Gov. Larry Hogan, cast one of the votes in favor of the permit.

Rutherford, a Republican, was joined by state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat, who said that while she did not like the project, the developer had fulfilled the legal requiremen­ts.

The board voted after a contentiou­s hearing at which Franchot quizzed Morgante to the point that Rutherford admonished the comptrolle­r for having “browbeaten” the wetlands official.

“This is a vote for sprawl in a completely inappropri­ate area,” Franchot said. “This is just a complete disgrace, what we’re doing right now.”

Jeffrey H. Horstman, deputy director for the Miles-Wye Riverkeepe­r, questioned Morgante’s assertion that the nitrogen and phosphorus from farmland on the site would outstrip pollution from the developmen­t.

Horstman said Morgante’s conclusion overestima­tes the effectiven­ess of the project’s planned stormwater retention ponds.

“It’s going to flood with rain and it’s going to flood with storm surge. The ponds are going to overflow into the river,” he said.

But Charles Schaller, a lawyer for K. Hovnanian, insisted that the company had met regulatory and legal requiremen­ts. “K. Hovnanian has done everything it’s been asked to by the government,” he said.

The board’s action does not mean Hovnanian will be able to break ground soon. Jay Falstad, executive director of the Queen Anne’s Conservati­on Associatio­n, said his organizati­on and others would take the issue to court. Twice before, disputes involving the Four Seasons project were fought all the way to Maryland’s highest court, taking years to reach a resolution.

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