A Baltimore County judge ruled yesterday that a Miller Island man owns the waterfront property near his home, despite claims that a county deed had long reserved the land for public access to the water.
Circuit Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr.'s swift decision favoring Kennard Broglie's right to bar the public from his land has, for the moment, settled a heated controversy among neighbors on this peninsula in the eastern end of the county.
The dispute arose when Rose Sapperstein, a 91-year-old Baltimore woman who owned a dozen small tracts of land along the water's edge on Miller Island, began selling the property to residents.
Mr. Broglie, who operates a yachting business, bought a 30-by-115-foot tract of waterfront land last year and closed off the access road to the water so that he could complete construction for his business.
His neighbors became worried that his action would touch off a trend, placing land once used by everyone in the hands of a few who could deny even those who lived on the island access to the water.
Yesterday's ruling on who had the right of way to the water -- the public or those who had purchased the property at the water's edge -- "comes down to an interpretation of the deed," Judge Murphy said.
For several minutes, the judge hunched over a copy of the deed and a map nearly as long as the court bench before he announced that the land did not belong to the county, no matter what local officials thought.
Louis E. Schmidt, Mr. Broglie's attorney, said he was pleased with the judge's decision. He added that neither Mr. Broglie nor any of the other residents buying the waterfront tracts meant to touch off such a dispute within the close-knit community.
"Not one of them has said I am going to keep my neighbor from having access to the water," Mr. Schmidt said. "It's the outsiders they're concerned about, the people who come in and create the trash and garbage and cause disturbances and trouble."
Michael J. McMahon, a county attorney, said he disagreed with the judge's interpretation of the deed and planned to ask the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to review the decision.
Mr. McMahon argued that the misuse of a comma and the word "and" in one passage of the deed obscured the true ownership of the land at the edge of Cuckold Point Road.
The way Mr. McMahon interprets the passage, the county would own all the land from 10th Street to the water's edge along Cuckold PointRoad, which would include the tracts sold by Mrs. Sapperstein.
The judge said the deed indicates that the county owns only the land between 10th and 12th streets, and that the property between 12th Street and the water is owned by Mrs. Sapperstein and her buyers.
"The county has maintained [Cuckold Point Road] as a public road for 30 years," Mr. McMahon argued to no avail before Judge Murphy. "We've included it in the inventory of county roads, repaved it and even stopped a local restaurant from blocking it because the fire department said they need access to the island in case of an emergency."
Despite yesterday's decision, the county may still go ahead with plans to condemn Mr. Broglie's property, as well as the 11 other tracts of waterfront tracts, and make the property a public park.
Councilman Donald R. Mason, D-7th, said he plans to introduce a bill in the County Council which would condemn the waterfront property, pay the owners what it's worth, and turn the land over to the Baltimore County Department of Parks and Recreation.