Sale of point has residents concerned

Potential buyer would build mansion on site
17-acre site worth $1.3 million
Redemptorists want funds for projects here, abroad
Anne Arundel

By Lynn Anderson, BALTIMORE SUN STAFF
October 06, 2003

For years, residents on Riverview Avenue near Annapolis have enjoyed their very own Eden, 17 acres of sunny meadows and vine-tangled woods along the water that was more or less abandoned in the 1980s by the Catholic priests who once swam and picnicked there.

"So far, the property has remained pure," said Dick Morin, who lives down the street from the overgrown place, a Severn River landmark that many in the Annapolis area refer to as Priest Point.

Today, the Redemptorists of the State of Maryland, an order of priests who founded St. Mary's Parish in Annapolis, are poised to sell the tract to a buyer who wants to build a mansion on it.

Sale of the property, worth $1.3 million or more, could help the Catholic church raise much-needed funds for missions at home and abroad. But local residents say they fear that the transaction could dash their hopes of preserving the wildlife sanctuary.

"This is one of the last undeveloped pieces of land on Weems Creek and the Severn River," said Fred Kelly, a "riverkeeper" of the Severn who passes the point, with its towering oaks and chestnuts, on daily patrols. "It's a gorgeous location. ... And we are desperately trying to keep some open space on the water's edge."

The potential buyer has applied to the county for a variance to build the mansion, but Anne Arundel County planners are opposed to allowing residential construction on most of the land, which is zoned for open space. The county board of appeals will review the project Oct. 21.

Members of the Weems Creek Conservancy - which is working with state and local officials to clean the waterway and revitalize fragile grass and oyster populations - are desperately trying to raise funds to purchase Priest Point, which is home to bald eagles, fox, river otter and flocks of birds.

They say that developing the site - including removing trees and vines, as well as adding impervious surfaces such as walkways and roofs - could increase the amount of sediment that runs into the Chesapeake Bay. Sediment chokes bay grasses, which are essential to crab and fish populations.

"We still have some hopes of buying the property," said Evan Belaga, an Annapolis resident and president of the Weems Creek group, which has been trying to purchase the site for almost two years.

But members of the tightly knit religious community, including Redemptorist priests at St. Mary's Parish, have refused to work with them, Belaga and other conservationists said.

(Revised April 2010)