An Open Letter To The Office Of Planning And Zoning, Steve Kaii-Ziegler


Dear Mr. Kaii-Ziegler,

The Greater Severna Park Council, the Magothy River Association and the Berrywood Community Association are writing to state our opposition to the proposed development called The Enclave at Severna Park (P2018-0067, S2018-019).

There are many reasons that this site is unsuitable for the development as proposed, primarily because of its location next to fragile wetlands and on a downhill leading to a busy intersection on the seriously overcrowded Ritchie Highway. The severe slope that already makes this portion of Ritchie Highway dangerous also makes grading and building on such steep slopes very problematic for the adjacent wetlands and Cattail Creek.

The developer is proposing a private road into the subdivision, necessitating three school bus stops during the morning rush hour when the traffic on northbound Ritchie Highway is heaviest, exacerbating an already bad situation. Children waiting for a school bus on this downhill is terribly dangerous, and the added backups caused by the separate bus pickups for elementary, middle and senior high students every morning is more than commuters from Arnold and Severna Park should have to contend with on a highway that exceeds capacity already.

The same slopes that cause this section of Ritchie Highway to be highly unsafe for school bus stops also make the site very problematic for development. The proposed 12-home subdivision is beyond the capacity of this sharply contoured site to be responsibly built when it is so close to the critical area of Cattail Creek. It should be noted that the critical area lines are being revised as the tidal push of Cattail Creek extends further upstream.

The slopes within the site are steep, with no mitigation potential for the heavy rainfall that we are increasingly experiencing in our county. Stormwater controls will be overwhelmed by the volume and velocity of the water that this subdivision will generate during any heavy downpour and even during periods of lighter rain when the ground is saturated or frozen. An outfall pipe that dumps into the wetlands is a disaster for the wetlands, with erosion of the wetland bed inevitable.

To illustrate our concerns, a contour model based on the submitted drawings was made of the project and a contour profile based on the cross section of the project was graphed. These give visual perspective to the severe stormwater and drainage issues that we raise with this development as proposed. The model and drawings highlight what is obvious when visiting the site – there is no responsible way to cram 12 homes onto a site that is so unsuited to development due to the steep slopes that lead directly into the Cattail Creek wetlands.

The second picture shows an overlay placed over the contours shown in blue and red, with red marking the 10-, 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-, 60- and 70-foot levels. The houses are orange, roads new to the project are shown in gray and Ritchie Highway is shown in yellow. The light green line shows the naturally occurring drainage path running down the center of the project. This illustrates a major problem with this project – 10 of the houses and the interior road will be built directly in the existing natural drainage channel along the steep hillside. Bio-swales, even if they are meticulously maintained, will not be able to contain the stormwater running down such steep slopes, especially when the slope is now a paved roadway or the ground is frozen. The developer is creating a condition where serious erosion will occur with every heavy rainfall, creating sinkholes in the roadway and damaging the wetlands that are directly below the project. The problems that will be dumped onto the HOA to mitigate or repair are enormous and expensive. Bioswales that are not scrupulously maintained will not function under such volumes of water, and we seriously question the ability of a 12-member HOA to adequately maintain these bioswales at anywhere near prime working conditions.

The third picture below shows the actual cross section profile along the center of houses on lots 3 through 10, highlighting the extremely steep slopes on lot 1 (33%) and lot 6 (16%). Stabilizing the subdivision road will be an ongoing problem, and lots 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9 will have persistent flooding problems.

Grading and building on lots such as these will send stormwater and sediment into the wetlands directly downhill from the site, degrading the wetlands and compromising the water quality in Cattail Creek.

Normally, the open space area of a cluster development that is preserved to compensate for the reduction in lot sizes for the developed area is the area in which the tree cover, open space and similar natural features are preserved. That area becomes common area, which is to be used to protect the environment and for the use and benefit of the residents who buy homes in the community. In return, the homeowners must form a mandatory Home Owners Association (HOA) which, in addition to taking on the costs and responsibilities of maintaining, repairing, and replacing the private roads and any private stormwater management or other required private utilities in the developed area, are also responsible for the maintenance, repair and replacement of the common areas. There is also the cost of taxes and insurance on the property. In this case, most of that common area is the steep slopes and stream valley of Cattail Creek and its buffers on either side, which they also will own and will be responsible for. These costs will continue year after year beyond the end of the mortgage on the houses for as long as they live there. Thus, questions arise which need to be addressed:

  • Isn't the use of this common area of benefit only to the developer in that the number of lots can be doubled? Does P&Z or the developer anticipate the area zoned Open Space in this parcel will ever be of any benefit to the homeowners in this plan?

  • Is it fair to place the burdens of ownership of this area on the HOA to benefit only the developer? Could the responsibilities placed on the 12-family HOA cause the HOA to fail or go bankrupt?

  • What happens to the area zoned C-3?

  • Does the Maryland Homeowners Association Act apply to the Anne Arundel County Code? Would that have an effect on the plans for this property? Would it have an effect on all projects that have used cluster development to design their subdivisions?

  • Can we expect answers to these questions?

  • When and if this plan is approved, can the approval be identified on the public website?

The proposed Enclave at Severna Park subdivision is so dysfunctional that it is impossible to believe that it has proceeded this far. The Greater Severna Park Council, the Magothy River Association and the Berrywood Community Association believe that the county cannot continue to appease developers at the expense of the water quality in our creeks and rivers. The quality of life for the citizens who already live here is directly tied to the quality our waterways. Not being able to swim for 48 hours after a rain event is not acceptable, yet the county continues to let developers degrade our creeks and rivers by approving meager stormwater controls. We implore Planning and Zoning to hold developers not to the minimum standards for stormwater controls, which have failed miserably to preserve even modest water quality, but to hold developers to high enough standards that our waterways are safe for both human and aquatic life.

Thank you very much.

Karen Royer
Berrywood representative to the Greater Severna Park Council
Magothy River Association member