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Little Island Before . . .

One Man Is an Island

Paul Spadaro, an environmentalist, is the chief adversary of a developer Daryl Wagner, a developer who built a showplace home on Little Island in the Magothy River. Spadaro and others believe it violates zoning restrictions and want it torn down. Pictured: Neighbors take in the view of Little Island from a neighborhood public park that faces the home's rear view.
Paul Spadaro, an environmentalist, is the chief adversary of a developer Daryl Wagner, a developer who built a showplace home on Little Island in the Magothy River. Spadaro and others believe it violates zoning restrictions and want it torn down. Pictured: Neighbors take in the view of Little Island from a neighborhood public park that faces the home's rear view. (Linda Davidson - The Washington Post)

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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 25, 2006

Daryl Wagner purchased a two-acre wisp of scrub and sand near Annapolis called Little Island six years ago and built his dream home there. He replaced jagged banks with sloping grass, uprooted hardwood trees and planted plastic palms, dug an in-ground pool and raised a metal-roofed copy of a lighthouse.

Neighbors along the Magothy River watched the house go up and snapped pictures of the military-style amphibious vehicle Wagner used to bring over materials from shore. They assumed he had permission for the grand redesign. He did not.

Wagner built his house and molded the landscape of Little Island without the proper permits -- a bold move, considering that most of the land lies within the strictest environmental buffer in Maryland.

Environmentalists say they cannot recall a more blatant violation of the critical-area law that restricts development along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

Anne Arundel County sued Wagner, but a county hearing officer subsequently ruled that he was entitled to keep the house. Environmental groups are fighting him before the county Board of Appeals. They see Little Island as the ultimate test of the government's resolve to fight the developers and wealthy landowners who continually test it.

"The only direction that house is going is down," said Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association and Wagner's most outspoken adversary. "Otherwise, anybody will be able to do whatever they want."

Wagner, a home builder by trade, grew up within sight of Little Island. His family owned Island View, a modest summer retreat for vacationing urbanites established by his great-grandfather in 1918 in Arnold. The resort sat a short distance from Dobbins Island, a gathering spot for generations of boaters -- including Wagner and his brothers -- drawn to its beach and mysterious trails. The aptly named Little Island lay to the north.

"The Magothy River means more to me than anybody could ever know," Wagner, 51, said in his first public comments on a dispute that has been the talk of the community. "The Magothy River is in my blood. I would never do anything to harm it."

Wagner courted the owners of Little Island from the early 1970s, seeing promise on the neglected triangle of poison ivy and crumbling banks. Over the years, he watched the eroding island "basically melt into the Magothy, just disintegrating, seeing the trees fall over and take the dirt with them."

The home builder finally bought Little Island in 2000. By raising a stone barrier along its perimeter and stabilizing the shoreline, Wagner probably saved the land mass from slipping into the water, a fact not lost on residents along the river.

"What he did in the end was a positive thing, and I can't deny that," said Robert Lane, whose property on the mainland looks out at Wagner's.

There's little doubt, given his profession, that Wagner knew what he was doing when he built the home in the winter of 2000-01 without a building permit or an explicit variance from environmental laws. Wagner says the home is 3,200 square feet.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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