Human habitat prevails over shoreline protection Housing group wins permission to build house for low-income family GLEN BURNIE

August 25, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Despite the county's new shoreline protection law, Habitat for Humanity takes precedence over wildlife habitat, an Anne Arundel County official said yesterday.

Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox said he will grant Arundel Habitat for Humanity permission to build a four-bedroom house within a "habitat protection area" along Marley Creek that was set aside for wildlife by the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area law.

Otherwise, the nonprofit group, which places lower-income families in new and renovated homes, would be unable to build on the small lot separated from the creek by Wendover Road, Mr. Wilcox said. Precluding Habitat from building on the land would be unconstitutional, he said, citing a recent Supreme Court ruling.

He also noted that Wendover Road already is heavily developed within 100 feet of the water.

To protect water quality and plant, fish and wildlife habitats, the Critical Area law bars construction within 100 feet of the shore. But the Habitat for Humanity house -- no matter where it is placed on the site -- would be only 37 feet from the shore.

The conflict with the Critical Area law surprised Habitat officials, who finished building another home in the same neighborhood last month without a hitch. In fact, about 100 volunteers turned out early on the morning of July 24 to break ground on the new house before learning they could not get the necessary building permits without obtaining a variance from the Critical Area law.

Many property owners and builders were caught unaware when the Critical Area rules changed suddenly June 9, said Pam Miley, a planner with the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement. That was when the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission voided portions of the county law that gave planners broad discretion to grant exceptions to the rules.

At the commission's insistence, the County Council recently amended the law to require a formal review by an administrative hearing officer before anyone can build within a "habitat protection area."

The Habitat for Humanity project was one of the first reviewed by Mr. Wilcox's office under the new rules. Mr. Wilcox said he expects to hear 800 to 3,000 similar requests for variances from the "habitat protection area" rules during the next year.

Although Habitat for Humanity won this time, Mr. Wilcox said he will not approve every request to build in wildlife areas.

"Porches are nice, and garages are nice, but they are not necessary," he Mr. Wilcox said.

Habitat officials still must obtain grading and building permits for the Wendover Road house, said Leland Wilson, director of Arundel Habitat for Humanity. But he said he is optimistic that his volunteers can begin construction by Sept. 12.

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