- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

CHESTER, Md. — One of the largest housing developments in the history of the Eastern Shore faces another hurdle next week. But yesterday, the state Board of Public Works toured the waterfront parcel before deciding whether to allow wetlands permits for the proposed Four Seasons project.

The development, first proposed more than five years ago, has sparked spirited opposition from neighbors and turned into one of the hottest political topics in a county trying to fend off growth from Annapolis, Baltimore and the District.

“It seems like they just want to pave all of Kent Island,” said Allen Lopez, a wildfowl sculptor who lives nearby and showed up with a protest poster yesterday to greet the board.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp — who are slated to make a decision as soon as Wednesday — spent about two hours touring the site on the northeast side of the island. They learned about drainage on the land and a proposed bridge spanning Cox Creek.

Developer K. Hovnanian has proposed building 1,350 homes — 420 condominiums and 930 houses — on the parcel, along with a community center. The development would be limited to residents over 55.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, told reporters that he wanted to see the area for himself before deciding on approval of a wetlands permit, one of the final remaining hurdles for the development.

“It’s important for us on a such an important decision to see” the land, he said.

Mrs. Kopp, a Democrat, said the question before the Board of Public Works is not necessarily thorny, but the larger question of allowing the development is.

“The permit is a relatively small one — but the project which is related to it is a relatively large one,” she said.

The board’s visit was the first venture for top state officials into what has proven one of the rockiest matters for local politicians to navigate for some years. In 2002, Queen Anne’s County residents tossed the entire county commission, largely because of unrest over the Four Seasons project. The political turmoil continued again last year, when the commission flipped from four Republicans and one Democrat to four Democrats and one Republican.

“The citizens are against this project,” said Mike Koval, one of the commissioners elected in 2002 and defeated last year. Mr. Koval attributes his primary loss to his opposition to the Four Seasons project, but the Republican who defeated him eventually lost in the general election.

Mr. Koval attended the board’s tour yesterday and said he was curious to see whether the board, now ruled by Democrats, would stop the Four Seasons project.

Standing a few feet from the officials giving speeches, Mr. Koval said, “We’re going to find out what kind of environmentalists these guys are.”

After the tour, the officials did not say how they plan to vote next week, though Mr. O’Malley hinted that previous approvals from state and local officials won’t influence his decision.

“The fact that other hurdles have been crossed don’t mean that we don’t have to do our duty,” he said.

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