Gov. William Donald Schaefer's purchase of waterfront land near Ocean City places him smack in the middle of a controversy over whether the building boom around Maryland's only ocean resort is spoiling the state's fragile coastal bays.
Schaefer today insisted that there was nothing wrong with his purchase last September of a 2.7-acre lot in an undeveloped subdivision a few miles southwest of Ocean City in Worcester County.
He had denied earlier this week that he did anything to influence his own Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region to drop a proposed building ban on low-lying, flood-prone land such as his, which borders the shallow strand of coastal bays that separate Ocean City from the mainland. The commission members agreed that they had not been lobbied by Schaefer.
But the governor's disclosure raises questions about his land purchase and about the state's efforts to protect the beleaguered coastal bays from overdevelopment.
Schaefer surprised members of the growth panel Wednesday when he appeared before them and said he had acquired an option on the lot in the Saddle Creek subdivision 1 1/2 years ago. He said he had paid "full price" for it.
Land records examined yesterday at the Worcester County courthouse in Snow Hill indicate that Schaefer paid substantially less for his lot than did purchasers of three smaller waterfront lots nearby in the same subdivision.
Schaefer, like some other buyers, paid less because he signed ** an early purchase option before the subdivision plat was recorded in December 1989, said Bud Church, the Ocean City real estate agent who showed Schaefer the land. Schaefer received no preferential treatment and demanded that the deal be proper since reporters had questioned his land purchases in the past, Church said.
According to a deed recorded Sept. 15, 1990, Schaefer paid $95,000 for lot No. 2, a 2.7-acre grassy tract on Trappe Creek. The lot had about one-fifth of an acre of marshland.
A 2.14-acre lot that adjoins Schaefer's sold Jan. 27, 1990, for $130,000, the deed shows. Other deeds indicate that two other nearby waterfront lots -- 2.55 acres and 2.01 acres, respectively -- also sold for $130,000 each last March.
Fourteen of the 25 lots in Saddle Creek have been sold, according to a real estate company's flier on display at the subdivision site. Only two waterfront lots remain unsold -- one listed for $140,000 and the other for $225,000.
Schaefer, questioned this morning after he dedicated a new traffic light for St. Ursula's Catholic school in Parkville, defended his lot purchase and accused The Evening Sun and The Sun of persecuting him over his land dealings.
"It wasn't cheaper at the time I bought it," Schaefer said. And he noted that the lot, which fronts on Trappe Creek, had some sediment erosion problems, implying that those may have depressed its value.
The governor apparently acquired the option on his lot before the project had received all local, state and federal development permits.
An irritable Schaefer said he had no particular plans for the lot because "I have to wait for the Sunpapers to get through."
"You [newspapers] forced me to sell the lot I bought on Tilghman Island, and you'll force me to sell this, too," he said. Two years ago, Schaefer returned a waterfront lot he had bought from his appointments secretary, Robert Pascal, after that deal was reported by newspapers.
Gene Parker, one of three partners in the 119-acre Saddle Creek development, could not be reached despite repeated telephone calls. His real estate business associates said he had gone to Annapolis overnight.
Parker had denied selling or even showing the land to Schaefer when questioned in December 1989 by an Evening Sun reporter who was checking out a rumor that the governor had bought land there.
"If the governor has looked at a lot in Saddle Creek, I don't know it," Parker said then. "He has not been on the project. . . . He doesn't even know where it is."
Another partner in the development, Charles "Buddy" Jenkins, owner of Jolly Roger amusement park and other properties in the Ocean City area, acknowledged today that he had raised funds to help pay for renovations at the Governor's Mansion during the Schaefer administration. But Jenkins maintained his fund-raising had nothing to do with Schaefer's land purchase.
Another partner in the development, lawyer Paul Ewell, could not be reached.
It was not clear how Schaefer's land would have been affected by development restrictions originally proposed in November by the governor's growth panel, or by changes made in public meetings last month and this week.
The 19-member panel has proposed legislation that aims to protect the state's dwindling farmland and forests by concentrating new development around existing towns.