The Lasting Clash Over Two Island Homes
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The owners of two islands in the Magothy River, embroiled in years-long zoning battles over their right to build houses there, have won significant victories in recent months. But, with appeals of the decisions pending, neither fight seems anywhere near over.
The Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals ruled that the large house that home builder Daryl Wagner built on Little Island without the proper permits could remain. And a county hearing officer said that a new configuration for a house on Dobbins Island could work for businessman David Clickner, whose previous plans have been rejected.
The spats over two wooded spits of land have exposed a conflict between the Magothy's more relaxed past -- when boaters used island beaches as impromptu gathering spots -- and the present, in which every inch of riverfront is worth building on and fighting over.
Opponents of the houses include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a local group, the Magothy River Association. They say that building on the islands sets a dangerous precedent and that rules against development in "critical areas" near shorelines are toothless.
"If the Wagner house does not go down, you don't have any rules," said Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association. "If the Clickner house gets built up on the island, it's the same thing.
"If we can't apply these critical areas to two small islands, then why even have the law in the first place?" he said.
The first controversy, over Little Island, started three years ago when county officials noticed that a two-story house, complete with faux lighthouse, had been constructed on the two-acre island.
Wagner should have sought permits to build the house so close to a shoreline but did not, officials said.
An investigation and a series of hearings followed, as county officials mulled over whether he should be required to demolish the home. In October 2005, a county hearing officer ruled that the home could stand, but that decision was appealed to the Board of Appeals.
On Jan. 3, the appeals board came to a similar decision, noting that others had built homes on the island. But the board said Wagner should remove a pool, patio, gazebo and other structures. Soon afterwards, appeals were filed by the Magothy River Association and the Maryland Critical Area Commission, an arm of the state government.
Ren Serey, the commission's executive director, said he believed that the board -- reluctant to make Wagner tear down the house in which he now lives -- had reached for a political compromise instead of looking at the letter of the law.
"Whether this is the right house, whether this is the right size of the house, never got a fair hearing," Serey said.