A proposed bill that would make it easier for community associations to build fishing and swimming piers may draw fire from county river associations at a County Council hearing tonight.
The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Diane Evans, R-Arnold, would give the piers -- which would be reserved for fishing, crabbing, swimming, or other non-boating uses -- a conditional use status, meaning they would be subject to the building permit approval process.
But representatives of the river associations want the piers to be given a special exception designation, which would subject them to the more rigorous process of public hearings that applies to community and commercial piers.
"The Severn River Association feels that the bill is acceptable as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. We feel it needs the special exception process amended into it," said Stuart Morris, past president of the association.
Under Ms. Evans' bill, the community association would only have to notify and gain the approval of its members and adjoining property owners. Critics of the bill said the application should be open to comment from the general public before a hearing officer. A decision at this level could also be taken before the Board of Appeals. This is the process community boating piers and commercial piers must follow.
"I think the fundamental problem we have [with the bill] is a fishing pier is really a community pier. It ought to be addressed in exactly the same fashion. It shouldn't be exempt from all the requirements of a community pier," said James E. Gutman, past president of the Magothy River Association.
If recreational piers are given the same status as community piers, they would have to include bathrooms and parking, amenities which Ms. Evans holds are unnecessary for the limited use piers. Instead, the piers should be given conditional use status because community associations ought to be able to determine how they wish to use their waterfront property, she said.
"What right does someone in North County have to tell someone in South County how to use their property?" she said.
In addition, Ms. Evans argues that the special exception process is expensive and time-consuming, putting pier construction out of reach for all but the most wealthy communities.
Ms. Evans sponsored a similar bill that was approved last November. After several members of the river associations complained, she agreed to a moratorium on new recreational pier construction and formed an advisory committee before drafting the new legislation.
The new bill mandates that the pier must have a 15-foot setback and must be 50 feet from any other structure. In addition, the pier must conform to strict state Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas regulations, which was not required in the first bill. The community organization must also obtain approval for the pier from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Final approval is granted by the county Department of Inspections and Permits.
Mr. Gutman said he has a possible compromise in mind that he will try to get a council member to introduce at a later meeting. He proposes that if the pier is less than 200 square feet, it would be granted conditional use status. A pier larger than 200 square feet would have to go through the special exception process.
There are only nine recreational piers in the county now that zoning officials know about. Ms. Evans pointed out that there are thousands of private piers which only go through the building permit process.