Board grants controversial wetlands license to Kent Island developer

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Board of Public Works Nov. 18. Governor's Office photo


By Darcy Costello

Capital News Service

Board of Public Works Nov. 18. Governor's Office photo

Board of Public Works Nov. 18. Governor’s Office photo

The Board of Public Works granted a controversial wetlands license to K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Kent Island Wednesday in a 2-1 vote, after two previous appearances before the board and a court decision that restrained the three-member panel’s scope of authority.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, sitting in for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, voted yes along with Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat. Comptroller Peter Franchot, the sole dissenting vote, also a Democrat, called the proposed development “irresponsible suburban sprawl.”

Bill Morgante, the state’s wetland administrator, recommended the board approve the project and said the stormwater management system proposed in the development would be better for the environment than current agriculture on the property.

Previous board had rejected project

In 2007, the board, with then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, in addition to Kopp and Franchot, denied the license application.

But a 2012 court decision, Board of Public Works et al. v. K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Kent Island, LLC. found the board guilty of voting based on factors “outside the lawful scope of its discretion,” according to the opinion. The court ruling clarified that the board must make its decision based solely on the interests of preserving wetlands rather than judging the project as a whole.

In 2013, the board deferred voting, following questions over a piece of the property known as the Tanner parcel. This year, the application appeared before the board for the third time.

Kopp doesn’t like it but votes yes

Though Kopp voted yes Wednesday, she voiced serious hesitations over the Kent Island plans, calling it the “wrong development” in the “wrong place,” and clarified that her vote corresponded with the Court of Appeals ruling, not her approval of the project.

A number of citizens voiced their disapproval of the project, calling for additional public hearings, as the last was held in 2003.

“I do want to bring common sense into government at some point, and I think the Board of Public Works should protect us from rising seas, should protect the citizens and community,” Jeffrey Horstman, of the Midshore Riverkeepers Conservancy, said in the meeting. “I think you should protect us from developments like this, that will hurt us economically and environmentally, as it sinks into the river over time.”

In a posting on Facebook after the meeting, Franchot wrote: “According to our own staff, this project will have harmful effects on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, will aggravate traffic congestion, and will disrupt the quality of life that is so important to the Eastern Shore’s economy. The Board of Public Works did some very good things today… but this is one that bothers me.

Rejects single bid contract

The board also:

  • Denied a single-bid, $47,691,312 contract to MJ Management Services for transportation services for eligible paratransit customers in a 3-0 vote. The board was opposed to the contract as it was only bid on by the incumbent provider, which Franchot called “less procurement, more vendor protection.” Rutherford encouraged the Maryland Department of Transportation to enter into a retroactive contract and resubmit the bid to increase competition.
  • Unanimously approved, without discussion, a $450,000 settlement payment by the state in the ACLU lawsuit Duvall v. Hogan, which targeted the state-operated Baltimore City Detention Center that Hogan closed in July.
  • Approved eight lease and concession contract subleases, to be operated by Airmall Maryland Inc. in Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Though the subleases were approved, both Franchot and Kopp encouraged the Maryland Aviation Administration to open the Airmall contract to other vendors in the future.