Public Record

Top court clears way for waterfront project

Epping Forest lots to be developed despite opposition

Capital Gazette Communications Published 07/28/10

The state's highest court has ruled in favor of a developer that is building waterfront homes north of Annapolis.

For years, residents and environmentalists have fought Elm Street Development over the company's Arrow Cove project near Epping Forest.

The challengers lost at the county Board of Appeals, the county Circuit Court, the Court of Special Appeals and now the Court of Appeals, which ruled Thursday that the project is legal.

At issue was whether Elm Street could legally combine old, tiny lots into seven larger lots to build luxury homes along Saltworks Creek, which flows into the Severn River.

The opponents of the project argued state Critical Area laws, which govern waterfront development, would supersede lot-merger laws. They argued that only one home should be allowed on the site under the Critical Area laws.

Elm Street, headquartered in McLean, Va., used a 1926 plat that was never developed to argue that the project should be allowed to move forward without having to meet all of the Critical Area rules.

Michael McCann, a Towson attorney who represented the opponents, said he was disappointed with the ruling.

"We're disappointed, extremely disappointed, in the court's decision and its analysis," he said. "I think it sets a terrible precedent. As a practical matter, what could realistically happen is developers could reach back in time and find these old abandoned plats and use these plats to exercise a right we don't believe they have."

Elm Street had already moved forward with construction as the appeals were waged.

One home has been sold and is occupied and four more lots are for sale - three on Saltworks Creek and one not on the water. Prices start at $1 million.

Stephen Horne, an Elm Street vice president, was happy with the ruling.

"We are pleased the Court of Appeals supported our position and agreed with the lower court rulings," he said. "We believe Arrow Cove is a good example of responsible development that protects our environmental resources."

Fred Kelly, the Severn Riverkeeper, said that's not the case. Each time it rains, sediment-laden water flushes into Saltworks Creek, sullying the water, he said.

(Revised July 2010)