The owners of a St. Margarets beach hope to checkmate the county Board of Appeals' refusal last month to legalize their pier.
Hubert and Irene Bishop asked the Circuit Court, in a suit filed Dec. 10, to reverse the board and allow them to keep their pier on Mill Creek.
The Bishops had asked the board to grant them a zoning variance after county inspectors discovered that the pier is too close to a neighbor's property. In a strongly worded Nov. 5 ruling, the board denied the request, 5-1.
Under the law, piers must be set back at least 15 feet from property lines extended out from the shore. The Bishop's catwalk -- built before 1988 -- is within nine feet of that line. Two mooring pilings extend as far as five feet over the line.
The board also cited evidence that the pier was constructed without building permits and was being used as a commercial marina, which also would violate zoning laws.
"Mr. Bishop was trying to treat [board members] as pawns in his efforts to maintain an illegal use on his property," the board said. "In the game of chess, even a pawn can take a bishop if the latter is found in the wrong spot. Clearly, this Bishop finds himself in the wrong spot."
In the suit filed at the Anne Arundel County Courthouse, the Bishops' attorney complained the board's ruling was based not on county law, but "numerous extraneous factors."
"Indeed, [the board] seems to use the rules of chess in reaching its decision," said attorney Darrell L. Henry.
In a dissenting opinion, board member Joseph A. Johnson said his colleagues relied too much on the personal impressions they formed during a tour of the Bishops' property and "had lost sight of the simple issue before us; granting or denial of a variance."
The majority opinion described board members as "shocked" by the appearance of the property, which they believed included a single family home and a pier.
Mr. Bishop had told them he allowed three other boat owners to use his pier, but was not paid rent for those slips. But the board found a large gravel parking lot, boats in dry storage, commercial trash cans, a gazebo with outdoor furniture, large outdoor grills and commercial signs.
Mr. Bishop bought an acre on the south side of St. Margarets Road in 1976. He obtained a building permit in 1980 to repair one of two original piers damaged by Hurricane David.
Over the years, Mr. Bishop testified, county inspectors had told him three times that his pier was legal. But they issued a notice of violation for an improper setback on June 12, 1991 and ordered him to remove sections within the buffer.