A proposal to build an 1,800-home golf resort community on the shores of the Assawoman Bay in Ocean City, which was strongly opposed by environmentalists, has been rejected by Worcester County officials.
The county's five commissioners could not reach agreement on whether to approve, deny or amend the proposal.
One commissioner excused himself because of ties to a real estate company involved, leaving a deadlock among the four remaining commissioners.
"We have a stalemate, and our attorney tells us a stalemate is a denial," commission president James Barrett said.
Instead, the commissioners moved to urge the state to buy the 1,200-acre inland bay site from the union that owns it and turn the site into a park.
The Operating Engineers Local 37 Benefit Fund had proposed building 1,800 homes, a golf course and a 250-room hotel on a marshy peninsula bordered by Assawoman Bay and the St. Martin River.
The project, known as Lighthouse Sound, was opposed by environmentalists and community groups concerned about development along the fragile inland bays, which separate Ocean City and Assateague Island from the mainland. Ocean City officials and the owners of a chain of beachfront hotels also objected, saying they feared the development would use too much of the capacity of the city's sewer system.
County officials have been under pressure to control second-home development spreading along the mainland shores of Assawoman, Isle of Wight and Sinepuxent bays. Environmentalists have warned the growth could degrade the shallow estuaries, which are a fertile nursery and feeding grounds for many oceangoing fish and wildlife.
Natural Resources Secretary Torrey C. Brown said he agreed to look into buying the property after meeting informally with the commissioners at the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City. He said he was waiting for a letter from the county before initiating discussions with the union.
The Maryland Board of Public Works approved plans this week to expand properties classified as protected under the state's agricultural preservation program and authorized improvements to state parks and open spaces.
The preservation plan would allow the Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation to buy easements for 11 parcels, totaling 1,300 acres and valued at more than $2.5 million.
Four of the parcels are in Carroll County, one is in St. Mary's County and three each are in Harford and Baltimore counties. The preservation program was created in 1977 to protect open space and maintain agricultural property.
Under the program, landowners can establish their property as protected through agricultural preservation districts, which allows owners to sell development rights to the state.
In a separate transaction, the board agreed to purchase just under one-third of an acre in Prince George's County to enlarge the site of Riverdale, a historic house museum owned by the Maryland Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Riverdale was the home of George Calvert, son of Benjamin Calvert, who lived at the Prince George's County site from 1803 to 1822.
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