The Prince George's Planning Board, in a decision that could set the standard for curbs on future waterfront development in the county, voted yesterday to limit a Washington developer's plans to build a luxury housing community on the shores of the Potomac River.
Board members and planners made frequent reference during yesterday's discussion to how the proposal for the Waterside development of 30 to 40 luxury houses would fit in with regulations that have been proposed by the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission. Those regulations, which include establishing a 1,000-foot controlled shore zone along the bay and its tributaries, are scheduled to go before the General Assembly next month.
County planners said the Waterside development, which would be south of the proposed PortAmerica project, could harm wetlands and shoreline in the area.
Prince George's officials, unlike planners in other jurisdictions, followed the critical area proposals even though they have not been adopted by the legislature. The critical area commission's proposal includes provisions that would penalize jurisdictions if they tried to circumvent the legislation by approving developments after Dec. 1.
Dario J. Agnolutto, the attorney for Waterside, said it is unfair to expect developers to abide by laws that do not yet exist.
"It's clear that the staff is trying to find a way to implement the critical area laws before the General Assembly considers them," he said.
Officials from Wicomico, Somerset and Dorchester counties, who fear that the new laws will sharply limit their growth potential, have said they will not enforce the proposals until they become law.
Dorchester alone contains 30 percent of the affected shorefront area.
The planning board opted yesterday to accept a lower number of houses in the project, from 41 to 31. The houses are expected to range in price from $150,000 to $300,000 on lots that are expected to cost up to $90,000 each, according to the developers, Mark Vogel Associates.
Prince George's contains only 2 percent of the affected critical area, most of it along the Potomac and Patuxent river tributaries. County Executive Parris Glendening, who is a member of the critical area panel that drew up the regulations, is an ardent advocate of the proposed guidelines.
"There is this immense force building against the regulations," Glendening said in a recent interview. "Most people are saying, yeah, we ought to do it. But a few people are saying we absolutely ought not to. And it's going to be a significant fight."
Glendening's concerns on the issue were demonstrated yesterday as the five members of the planning board, all his appointees, debated the Waterside proposal.
"The [issue of the] bay critical area has brought a new twist to what the staff needs to look at in terms of property located next to the water," Chairman John Rhoads said during the public hearing. "I believe they're feeling their way through it."
County planners recommended that the Waterside development be limited because of the steep slopes and loose soil on the 42-acre property that could result in minor landslides and excessive runoff.
A much larger version of the Waterside project was approved by the planning board in the mid-1970s, but that approval lapsed, said Jack Blevins of the FSI Design Group, the land planners and engineers for the project. "In light of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area legislation, that plan just didn't make sense anymore," he said yesterday.
John Kapp of Vogel Associates said, "We were attempting to meet the critical area criteria with our subdivision plan even though the laws were not in place," Kapp said.
The developers reduced the number of streets that were to be built and agreed to an extensive set of conditions to receive yesterday's approval, even though the project includes only 950 feet of shoreline.
"We're all struggling for a place to take a stand, where to draw the line" on the enforceability of the bay proposals, Blevins said.