Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening plans to go to court to force the developers of Chapman's Landing to sell the state 2,300 forested acres along the Potomac River in Charles County.
The Conservation Fund, acting on behalf of the state, offered $25 million for the property, but the governor said in early April that the offer had been rejected.
"We have been informed in writing by the developer that his asking price remains substantially higher than $25 million - the greater of the two appraisals. This is totally unacceptable," Glendening said.
"Therefore, I will work with my two colleagues on the Board of Public Works to initiate condemnation proceedings, and I have directed the appropriate state agencies to immediately begin preparing the necessary legal documents," Glendening said.
Negotiations over the purchase of the land had been ongoing for several months, and in late March, bulldozers began clearing a small area of the property.
Legend Properties proposed building 4,600 homes, an 18-hole golf course and 2.25 million square feet of office and retail space on land that is 90 percent forested.
The centerpiece of Chapman's Landing is a 630-acre antebellum plantation.
Nathaniel Chapman, a friend and business associate of George Mason and of George Washington's father, purchased the plantation in 1751.
The developers plan to leave the Chapman house and a swath of land down to the river untouched, while preserving a 300-foot buffer of forest between houses and the Potomac.
But that did not satisfy environmentalists, who contend that it involves too much development on ecologically fragile land in southern Maryland and persuaded Glendening to intervene.
The site includes the largest unprotected forest tract on the lower Potomac, as well as the headwaters of Mattawoman Creek, which supports a diverse fish population and is a rich spawning area for many species.
The state and a private conservation group have been negotiating for several months to buy the property. The state hired two independent appraisers, and offered the highest amount, $25 million.
Glendening included $5 million in next year's budget to begin buying the land. That appropriation has been approved by the House and Senate.
It appeared any work at the site would be restricted at least for now, because Legend needs a state permit to build a stream crossing for easy access to 330 acres that would become the development's first section of 576 dwellings. The company received federal permission to disturb the stream in June.