STEVENSVILLE — The Kent Island High School auditorium was packed Tuesday night, Sept. 17, for an informational meeting regarding K. Hovnanian — developer of Four Seasons — giving 131 acres of land to the county for an Ecological Park. The County Commissioners wanted input from the public before proceeding with any negotiations.
About 50 people spoke during public comment with 39 stating they were against the project and 10 were in favor. Of those in favor, only five reside in the county.
During the meeting two presentations were given, one by County Administrator Gregg Todd detailing the proposed agreement by K. Hovnanian and one by Patrick McNeally, vice president of K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Kent Island.
The Maryland Board of Public Works, made up of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, suggested July 24, following the developer’s request for a wetlands permit, that the county and developer get the verbal agreements formalized in writing, Todd said. And the Board postponed its vote pending until the County and K. Hovnanian can enter an agreement concerning three main issues.
First, Todd said, the Board wants a permanent easement on 131 acres on a property known as the Tanner property to be made into an ecological park. Second, the project must follow the current Environmental Site Design with proper stormwater management. And third, the number of homes must be reduced from 1,350 to 1,079.
The Tanner property is located west of Cox Creek and is bordered by county park land on the north, the Mallard Run subdivision on the west and the Cross Island Trail passes through the property.
The main issue with the proposed agreement is whether or not the county should allow the 131-acres property to be deeded to the county, making the development of the “eco-park” the county’s responsibility.
According to Todd, the proposed park plans will require about 30 acres to be converted into recreational multi-purpose ball fields. The remaining 100 acres would be for conservation.
Since the Four Seasons project began about 15 years ago, the county has incurred some capital costs due to the original Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement, Todd said.
According to Todd, the county has already installed a 1,500 gallon per minute water well for about $408,000, upgraded the existing water treatment plant at the Chesapeake Bay Business Park for $200,000, and installed 11,068 linear feet of 12 inch water main for about $400,000, for a total cost of $1,011,324 to the county. Under the original Developer’s Rights and Responsibilities Agreement, K. Hovnanian was to pay for those upgrades.
And under the proposed agreement, Todd said, since the park land given to the county will be significantly more than originally planned, K. Hovnanian wants to be relieved of those expenses.
If the county does take ownership of the land, it would cost about $300,000 to install ball fields and trails and an additional $61,244 to maintain the fields annually. And with the loss of the Tanner property taxes, the county would lose another $6,493. All together, the park would cost the county about $1.5 million, Todd said.
During public comment, Suzanne Hogan of Stevensville said she thinks the informational meeting should have been postponed for a later date to see if the requested ball fields would even be allowed by the BPW.
According to Todd, there are also several benefits for the county with the proposal. The county would be given additional Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) credits for helping help reduce nitrogen runoff into the Bay through the preservation of Cox Creek. The county would also recapture about 75 acres of Critical Area Growth Allocation, which could be used on another project in the county.
Also, the county would save about $60,000 on predicted annual road and bridge maintenance and could also generate about $14,000 in revenue from yearly ball field tournaments, for a total yearly benefit of about $74,000, Todd said.
The Four Seasons project will also have several environmental benefits, as there will be zero permanent wetlands impact; K. Hovnanian is committed to restoring 39,000 square feet of wetlands at the north end of Cox Creek and will provide sustainability best practices, McNeally said during his presentation.
Economically, the project would create 6,100 jobs, over $30 million in total incentives, $97.2 million in net positive tax benefits over a 20-year period, over $8 million will be put toward sewer upgrades and $681 million in direct and indirect sales to local businesses, McNeally said.
“There is no business on Kent Island that would not benefit from this community,” McNeally said. “It’s active adults, no school age impacts, and they will bring their life savings to Queen Anne’s County. And they’ll spend it locally.”
Even though the informational meeting was about the ecological park, very few comments from the public were about the park. Other comments ranged from traffic concerns to pollution.
Suzi Elasik of Chester said she is concerned that if the homes in Four Seasons do not sell the developer may offer them to people of all ages and not just those who are 55 years and older, as they have done with other communities.
“This is a bad project and it makes me mad, and it has for years,” said Winn Krozack of Chester. “And it continues to anger me that three commissioners seem bent on permanently damaging our resource conservation areas bringing traffic gridlock and road services to an F, threatening emergency services and forever destroying our way of life on Kent Island.”
Krozack also said he thinks Commission President Steve Arentz should abstain from voting on any future Four Seasons issues since he owns Castle Marina Inn, the closest commercial restaurant to the Four Seasons property.
The County Ethics Commission said it was OK for Arentz to vote, Krozack said, and the current set of county commissioners appointed four of the five Ethics Commission members.
Krozack said he thinks Arentz stands to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars if the project is approved.
Mareen Waterman of Queenstown said he took offense to Krozack’s comments and to others who have tarnished Arentz’s reputation over the matter.
“(Arentz is) a real estate agent,” Waterman said. “He’s also 60 years old. It will be 10 years before there are any houses at Four Seasons and people are going to decide to sell. And I am sure Mr. Arentz will have long been retired from the business.”
Waterman also said he was in favor of the development, even though K. Hovnanian is a competitor of his.
Jay Falstad, executive director for Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, said he has been opposed of the project for years and the county commissioners still have another option they have not considered.
“The project that was presented in 2002 is vastly different than it is today. We have sea level rise; we have traffic concerns; we have concerns that truly will impact the citizens of Kent Island.”
According to Falstad, the Four Seasons project will affect the health, safety and welfare of county residents, and the commissioners have the authority to change the laws, rules, regulations and policies and the affect thereof upon Four Seasons development.
Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce President Linda Friday said environmentalist have reviewed the plan and their consensus is that there will be little — if any — environmental impact. And the benefits offered by the project far out weigh any possible detriment to county citizens, she added.
Several citizens said they were against the development but may be in favor in the future if the project was moved elsewhere in the county. And others said they were strongly for economic development but were not in favor of residential development.
Former County Commissioner Gene Ransom III said he believed the informational meeting fell short of what was requested by the BPW, which specifically requested a public hearing on the issue.
“This is an information meeting, which is wonderful, but it’s not what was requested,” he said.
“It was clear from the Board of Public Works that they had three issues,” Todd said. “We addressed all these issues. A public hearing was brought up afterwards, but was not one of the three issues that they specifically asked that we do.”
Todd was asked to keep the record open, but since it was not a public hearing, he said there was no official record to keep open.
There will be additional opportunity for public comment as “this project works its way through the system,” he said.
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