State seeks shoreline compliance Queen Anne's faces building ban threat

March 22, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

A map that accompanied an article in Sunday's Sun about shoreline-protection problems in Queen Anne's County failed to show that Kent Island is part of the county.

The state is threatening to impose a waterfront building moratorium in Queen Anne's County unless the Eastern Shore county tightens its controls over development along the Chesapeake Bay shoreline.

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, charged with overseeing and restricting development on the bay's shore, notified the county by letter this week that it must move within 30 days to close some long-standing loopholes in its local shoreline protection plan.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

If the county fails to act, the 26-member commission said it would invoke a 1991 state law that in effect authorizes it to forbid any new building within the county's "critical area," a 1,000-foot wide strip of land bordering the bay and its tidal tributaries.

This is the first time the Critical Area panel has exercised its power, granted last year by the General Assembly, to require counties and municipalities to correct "clear mistakes, omissions conflicts" with state law and regulations in local shoreline protection plans.

Judge John C. North II, the commission's chairman, wrote that the panel regretted confronting the county, but did so out of "deep frustration" after failing to get the problems corrected, despite more than two years of negotiations.

The county has neglected to check if some houses would be built too close to shorebird nests and to freshwater wetlands, among other things, say commission staffers. In one case, a home went up next to a rookery, or nesting colony, of about 60 great blue herons.

County officials said they felt sure the problems identified by the Critical Area panel could be worked out. But they questioned why the state was taking such a hard line with them. "We're not the only jurisdiction with problems. I don't know why they're starting on us," said William V. Riggs III, president of the Queen Anne's commissioners.

"Other counties are making changes," countered Sarah J. Taylor, the commission's director. "We have been getting some resistance" from Queen Anne's, she added.

Queen Anne's has 258 miles of shoreline. Seventeen percent of the county, or 40,000 acres, is in the regulated "critical area." The county issues about 100 building permits a year along the bay shore, according to Joseph Stevens, the county's planning director.

County officials also said they were surprised to learn that the state commission now has the power to require changes in local waterfront development laws and regulations.

The 1984 Critical Area law is intended to protect Chesapeake Bay from the harmful effects of shoreline development.

The commission said there were four "deficiencies" in the county's shoreline protection plan. One is a procedural glitch in how the county makes changes in its plan, but the other three have a direct impact on development.

County officials are not reviewing building permits on individual home lots, the commission letter says, to see that construction complies with required limits on clearing trees, paving and on building too close to protected animal or bird habitat.

"Queen Anne's County has some spots which are heron rookeries, and some spots which are pretty sensitive [environmentally], but if you don't check, you aren't following the intent of the law," Dr. Taylor said.

County officials did permit a home to be built two years ago near the Wye River within 100 yards of a heron rookery they should have known about, said Glenn Therres, of the Department of Natural Resources. The herons, normally skittish about human contact, did not abandon the site, but some did move their nests farther away from the home, he said.

Nor is the county enforcing certain limits on developments fronting the bay that were approved before the 1984 Critical Area law was enacted. While so-called "grandfathered" development is exempt from housing density limits in the law, it must still steer clear of designated wildlife protection areas, and only "water-dependent" structures such as boathouses are allowed within 100 feet of the shoreline.

The county plan also allows waivers from a general ban on building within 100 feet of the water. The state panel contends that it must approve such waivers beforehand.

The county has already agreed to tighten up its review of building permits and "grandfathered" development, said Mr. Stevens, the county's planning director.

But he and Mr. Riggs both complained that the commission had previously approved at least some of the provisions now cited as deficiencies, particularly the county's authority to waive the 100-foot waterfront setback requirement.

bTC "It was written into the original plan, and it was approved, but now it's not kosher," Mr. Riggs said.

Dr. Taylor acknowledged that the Critical Area commission may have approved the provisions it now considers flawed. But she said state law authorizes the panel to seek corrections, regardless of whether they were mistakenly approved.

This is not the first conflict the Critical Area panel has had with Queen Anne's. The county originally tried to enact a shoreline plan in 1988 that was more stringent in some respects than state law required, but less restrictive in others. The state panel refused to approve it, and the county changed it to comply.

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