Back Bay housing contested Appeal charges laxness in permit

December 14, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Two West River residents have challenged the legality of county permits issued to a Florida developer who could construct up to 71 homes on 22 acres at Back Bay Beach.

Robert Kovich and Robert Houchins have asked the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals to deny BMCN Joint Venture permits to clear and grade 13 building lots. They say the subdivision does not comply with county standards for lot size, road width, storm water management and wetlands protection.

"The county has given them carte blanche. They don't have to follow any of the rules," Mr. Kovich said.

But Bruce Krain, an attorney for BMCN, said the county has pressured the developer to improve on the subdivision's 63-year-old design.

The developer has had to install "extensive" storm water controls, limit the clearing of impervious surfaces on each lot to 25 percent and post bonds to guarantee the survival of important trees, Mr. Krain said.

Also, although the property was subdivided in 1929 into 96 lots, Assistant County Attorney Jamie Insley said the developer would only be allowed to build 71 homes on the property.

"We've been placed under a lot of scrutiny and had more requests and demands placed on us than any other project I've been involved with," Mr. Krain said.

The county Board of Appeals, which will hear the case at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the Arundel Center in Annapolis, decided in another West River resident's favor during a similar challenge last year. That has led to a see-saw legal battle, still pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

West River resident William Collison objected in November 1991, saying environmental rules were ignored when the county Permit Application Center first granted BMCN a grading permit to construct roads and lay sewer lines.

County officials argued that the development, designed and subdivided in 1929, did not have to comply with modern standards except "in so far as possible." And, although county planners identified wetlands on the site, wetlands regulations could not be enforced because the Army Corps of Engineers said that it found none.

After hearing 12 hours of testimony during an all-night hearing in November 1991 -- the longest continuous hearing in county history -- the appeals board agreed with Mr. Collison and rescinded the permit. Last summer, a Circuit Court judge reversed the board.

Mr. Collison and the West River Federation, a coalition of neighborhoods, has now asked the Court of Special Appeals to uphold the board. The higher court is not expected to answer until spring.

BMCN moved forward with construction after Circuit Judge Eugene Lerner's June 30 decision.

"It's kind of a gutsy move," said Thomas Wohlgemuth, an attorney representing the West River Federation. "They are converting wetlands into upland and they apparently don't care about the [high court] appeal."

Because the issues are similar to those heard by the appeals board last year, Mrs. Insley said she does not expect tonight's hearing to become a marathon. In fact, the County Council adopted new rules to prevent it, she said.

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