Rethink plan to build houses in Linganore

Kai Hagen

June 9, 2005

There can be a difference between having the right to do something and doing the right thing.

Elm Street Development is faced with that choice over the future of Indian Caves Park on the north shore of Lake Linganore.

Elm Street is a partner of Land Stewards, Linganore's developer. Both are large, Virginia-based companies. Elm Street is a residential real estate company that's designing and constructing a few thousand homes at "Lake Linganore at Eaglehead."

Lake Linganore is on 3,700 acres east of Frederick. Planned more than three decades ago, it was Frederick County's first planned-unit development. It has a number of "villages" around Lake Linganore and three smaller lakes.

For years, when the development was in the hands of other companies, one of the defining characteristics of the villages was that they were built into the existing landscape. That often meant narrow, winding roads that traced the natural, hilly topography and connected individually distinct homes set amid tall trees and plentiful outcroppings of native rock.

It is a serious understatement to say that approach has been abandoned by the current developers.

Despite long-standing principles and clear design standards that insist buildings blend into the natural environment, that existing trees and natural features are preserved, that streets are designed to fit the land, the new bosses managed to squeeze the worst development practices through a few legal loopholes and eradicate what was unique and special about the community.

Building the newest "village" -- Woodridge -- began with clear-cutting the forest, removing every outcropping and filling any wet spots. Then they mass graded the area, before putting up straight, tombstone-like rows of McMansions.

Another defining characteristic of the area is the abundance of forested open space, developed parks and picnic areas, and a few dozen miles of meandering trails.

Even now, the Eaglehead-on-the-Lakes Web site sells the community with lavish praise of the "glorious topography," referring to it as a "refuge of unspoiled forests and spectacular wildlife," with a "breathtaking shoreline," and noting the special "quietude and ecology of the area."

Of all the natural areas and features that remain, none is more natural, lovely or spectacular than Indian Caves Park.

The park occupies 12 acres, encompassing the last stretch of a picturesque stream where it flows between large and dramatic rocky outcroppings. The name of the park comes from the small cave and massive overhang that was referred to as the Boyers Mill Rock-Shelter by the archeologists who excavated the site 50 years ago.

Tall sycamore, beech and maple trees in the stream valley stand in contrast to the pitch pine and oaks shading scattered outcroppings and the slope that drops down to a secluded stretch of the lakeshore.

The area, which was always intended to remain a park, is undeveloped save for a wooden stairway, well-used trails, a footbridge over the creek and a picnic table. As recently as August 2003, the park was shown as open space on the Revised Plan. But another revision late that year suddenly showed it as the site for large single-family homes.

Barring a change in the plan, most of the woods in the park will be cut and its outcroppings dynamited, so that 16 new luxury homes can have an unobstructed view of the lake, and each other.

It wouldn't be cynical to assume the motivation for this travesty is profit. If it was that simple, however, you'd think Elm Street would not hesitate to explore the possibility that, with community support and perhaps a sympathetic planning commission, an alternative could be found that would preserve the entire park and their profit.

I can imagine a number of ways that could work. I can't imagine any good reasons not to try.

Even if they don't do so for the right reasons, they should jump on it anyway because it's still possible that a combination of public opposition and other issues (federal and state water quality standards, the Linganore Source Water Protection Plan, and more) could remove their right to do as they please on the site.

The Lake Linganore Association's Environmental Control Committee document offers this: "Short-term benefits to an individual or firm must take a back seat to the larger community interest. The interests of any party subordinate to those of the members, or that of the entire collective membership, over shadows the perceived interest of a single owner."

There are still some 5,000 lots to be developed. There has to be a way to avoid building those 16.

It's the right thing not to do.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at