In Epic Land-Use Tussle, An End and a Beginning

The verdict last week absolving SACReD members of libel in the $50 million lawsuit against them is a victory for everyone in Chesapeake Country fighting to preserve sensitive land from unwise development.

A jury in District of Columbia Superior court rejected Dominic Antonelli's claim for damages from the principals of Southern Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, even after finding that SACReD had indeed distributed false information about him. Antonelli, who filed the lawsuit, is a Washington parking magnate and the main bankroller in the drive to carve the Baldwin's Choice subdivision from waterfront land on the Shady Side peninsula.

Any other verdict would have sent a chilling message to citizens trying to work with government agencies and news organizations to forestall development in their communities.

The people won the victory in this case. But the lawsuit and trial took a toll on both sides. And it would be misguided to gloat or to persist in a hard-edged campaign that would squander resources that could be better directed.

The goal for both sides now should be a land trust or government purchase of this 477-acre parcel. We were pleased to see SACReD's conciliatory remarks after the trial. "We hope to put our differences aside," their statement read.

Meanwhile, Antonelli has taken a big step by signaling that he will not file an appeal. He has given every indication that with his subdivision plans stymied, he will deal in good faith to sell the land for the purpose of creating a park.

Preserving this land would be a winning proposition for everyone involved. Gov. Parris Glendening and Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary both have said they will contribute to its purchase. But as we've noted in this space, the clock is ticking. There likely will never be another time when the politicians who can make it happen not only are up for re-election but happen to be presiding over budget surpluses.

That ticking clock is why it's critical for both sides in this decade-long struggle to join forces. The trust is far from a done deal, and there are a slew of competitors lined up for government money to save land.

Government agencies need to see and hear broad support for saving this precious land. Until Glendening reasserted his interest recently, there was indication that some of his underlings weren't too impressed with Franklin Point.

Now that this messy lawsuit is over, people can direct their energies toward a positive result. The opportunity to save this land will be around for a brief time only, and it will take both sides, hand in hand, to seize it.

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VolumeVI Number 24
June 18-24, 1998
New Bay Times

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