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Prince William Charges Builder Over Muddy Pond

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page B01

For more than two decades, Richard and Sally Baldwin have enjoyed a quiet pond behind their Triangle home where they could fish for bluegills and bass with their grandchildren and watch geese and ducks play in the water.

Such a pond was a luxury in Prince William County, with hundreds of subdivisions, one of Virginia's fastest-growing communities. Now, Fairfax-based Edgemoore Homes is constructing nearly 300 homes just up a hill from the Baldwins' paradise.

The pond, which was a backyard retreat for the nine families that own pieces of it, has become a casualty of the development, called Stonewall Manor, residents say. They pine for the days that the pond was serene and blue. In the past year, it has turned into a muddy mess.

Prince William has charged Edgemoore Homes with 50 environmental violations, most for failure to control sediment runoff and erosion. During rainstorms, debris and dirt can be seen trickling down a hill and into the pond, which then overflows and floods streets in the area just a short distance from Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.

This week, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted to ask acting County Attorney Joseph L. Howard Jr. to file an injunction in county Circuit Court to halt construction. Howard said yesterday that he plans to file the papers next week. The move, he said, is highly unusual because officials try to settle development matters out of court.

Al Hussain, president of Edgemoore Homes, said he was not aware of the vote to take legal action. "They had a problem with us last week, and we tried to attend to it," he said.

Officials in surrounding counties said taking a developer to court over environmental violations is rare. "We have so many other areas of recourse other than taking people to court," said Terry Wharton, director of building and development in Loudoun County.

Edgemoore's conduct has been unusual, Howard said. "Normally, we do not have that number of violations, and normally, we do not have them recurring without prompt action," he said.

Because its land was zoned decades ago under old policies, Edgemoore Homes has been able to skirt current rules encouraging developers to provide fees to the county that can be used to build schools, roads and other infrastructure.

But the developer still must abide by building and environmental codes, said Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries), who led the Board of County Supervisors in the unanimous vote to take legal action.

A developer is required to erect silt fences, ponds, traps or berms or use other methods to control erosion, depending on the situation, said Tom Bruun, assistant director of public works for Prince William.

Hussain said it has been difficult because the area's topography has contributed to the erosion and flooding. "You know how much rain we've had lately. We have done our best. Sometimes you cannot control it," Hussain said. "We are trying to do whatever the law is asking us to do."

Sally Baldwin, 64, recalled that the pond was created out of a gully cleaned of debris by the residents and dammed by a developer in 1981 or '82. "It filled up in just a couple of days from the streams," she said.

Through the years, the pond has attracted various wildlife, from unwanted beavers to playful otters, she said.

Al Knehans, 69, said he bought his house next to the Baldwins' 18 years ago because of the lure of the blue pond. "I was attracted to this property from the ad that said 'Buy this property and own a piece of this pond,' " he said. "Now, I own a mud pit."

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