- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Most of a large subdivision proposed on the Eastern Shore will be bought by the state, ending more than a year of tension about thousands of new homes that environmentalists warned would harm a nearby wildlife refuge.

The state will spend up to $10.4 million to buy 754 acres of about 1,080 acres of what is now mostly farmland.

A developer, Duane Zentgraf, originally planned to build thousands of houses, as well as a golf course, hotel and conference center, on the land.

Yesterday’s agreement, subject to an appraisal and final state approval, leaves room for 675 houses, most of them for older adults only.

The plans for a golf course, hotel and conference center have been scrapped.

Negotiators said they hoped the state purchase, from state funds designated to buy open space, would end more than a year of debate over the proposed Blackwater Resort Communities.

Environmental groups and some neighbors worried that the development could harm the nearby Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, an area of fragile wetlands.

“This has been a conflict in the community,” said Charles Evans, assistant secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The timing of the announcement — less than 24 hours before polls opened — raised questions.

The development has become a top issue in local races, with Republican lawmakers from the area facing questions from some for their perceived support of the development.

Republican state Sen. Richard F. Colburn, for example, railed against state interference in what he called a local matter earlier this year in the General Assembly.

But last Tuesday, he praised the agreement, saying it would “protect the very resources that draw people to the Eastern Shore.”

He also said voters have been asking him about the development.

Mr. Colburn’s opponent, Democrat Hilary Spence, said she “couldn’t be more suspicious” that the announcement was timed to help Mr. Colburn and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election.

Miss Spence opposed the development, which was approved by city and county officials but partially blocked by the state Critical Areas Commission.

“They finally realized, ‘Oh, no. We better change course on this because we’re losing votes on this,’ ” Miss Spence said.

Mr. Colburn and the state officials insisted the timing was a coincidence. Mr. Colburn pointed out that many people already have cast absentee ballots, so the announcement wouldn’t help him with them.

“This is not going to change anybody’s vote one way or the other,” Mr. Colburn said.

The senator repeated his position that a Democratic bill considered by the Senate to block part of the development was undue interference with a local decision. That bill failed last term.

Mr. Evans said the state couldn’t wait until after the elections to announce the deal because it could have fallen apart. He said the agreement was struck Friday.

“Once you’ve agreed upon it, you’ve got to announce it,” Mr. Evans said.

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