The two 35-foot high metal storage racks dwarf the shore line of the small cove off Sue Creek in Back River Neck. Boats are stacked in them, like so many jars in a spice rack.
Some neighbors say additional boats would pose a danger to the environmentally sensitive creek, as well as to nearby homes.
The owner says his plan to keep the racks -- and build two more -- would in fact help to revive the dying waterway.
Last week a Baltimore County Circuit judge agreed with the residents.
Judge Barbara Kerr Howe overturned a county Board of Appeals decision that said Charles Anderson Jr., the owner of Anderson Bros. Boat Sales and Marina, could keep the two existing racks and add one more.
Mr. Anderson actually wanted to add two boat racks on the five-acre property, which includes a retail boat store and a marina.
Both the county zoning commissioner and the County Review Group, the body that oversees development, approved the two existing boat racks and one more, along with a number of other variances.
Local residents appealed. The main issue was whether the boat racks as approved would endanger the "health, safety and general welfare" of the community, according to court documents.
Ironically, the county appeals board had found that the racks would pose a danger to the creek and to the community.
But it upheld the approval for three boat racks anyway.
Judge Howe ruled that the board's approval was inconsistent with its findings.
John Gontrum, attorney for Mr. Anderson, said he will ask the judge to send the case back to the appeal board "so that the board can straighten out the inconsistency."
The marina occupies five acres near the intersection of Holly Neck and Baltimore Yacht Club roads.
Sue Creek is a tributary of Middle River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay just past the mouth of the creek.
The marina has been operating in a residential zone under a special exception since 1961. Mr. Anderson acquired the business in 1989. The previous owner erected two boat storage racks about four years ago.
Mr. Gontrum said the previous owner was notified of a building permit violation, but the county later dropped the case.
Mr. Anderson wanted to amend the special exception to construct two additional boat storage racks and provide 147 parking spaces for cars. Altogether, the four racks would hold more than 360 boats.
Mr. Anderson also wanted several variances that would allow him to put the racks closer to the water but farther away from adjacent houses.
Residents testified before the appeals board that 180 new boats in the new racks, added to more than 700 already moored along Sue Creek, would increase the environmental trauma to the tributary creek.
The creek has already high levels of pollutants, some the result of boaters discharging marine toilets into the water, residents said.
Neighbors also said they were worried that a high wind could blow the boats out of the racks into nearby houses. Others said the racks also posed a potential fire hazard. Mr. Anderson's attorney said the fears were groundless.
Mr. Anderson told the board he intended to remove an existing, drive-in boat ramp from the property (boats are lifted from the racks into the creek by a hoist) as well as an underground gasoline tank.
He also promised to restore the shoreline with 900 plantings and add a wastewater pump-out tank to reduce discharges of marine toilets.
In its ruling, the appeals board essentially agreed with neighbors that the racks would have an adverse effect on the creek and community. But it approved the two existing racks and a new one.
The panel denied permission for the fourth rack in an effort to prevent the land from being overcrowded, it said.