Board prohibits optician from building on marsh

September 30, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel and Carol L. Bowers | Andrea F. Siegel and Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writers

The Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals has decided to prohibit a Severna Park optician from building a house on stilts in a quarter-acre marsh along the Severn River.

Conservationists hailed the decision yesterday as a vote for environmental shoreline protection, but F. Nicholas Codd, who owns the property on Sullivan Cove, said he is considering appealing to Circuit Court.

He has pursued his dream of building the house for six years, he said, and he is not ready to give up.

"The next step is to get their final vote and read the written opinion," Mr. Codd said. "I'm really in the dark as to the legal basis. I'm clueless."

Stuart G. Morris, president of the Severn River Association, said he was "as surprised as I am delighted" with the decision. His organization spent $2,000 fighting Mr. Codd's proposal.

The ruling may not be final, however, because the board has not issued a written decision.

The minutes of a Sept. 21 meeting and the case file show the board voted 4-1 vote to deny Mr. Codd the variance he needs to build the house. But members are allowed to change their votes until they have signed a written decision.

Mr. Codd, whose family has owned the lot for 32 years, has tentative approval from some state and federal agencies to build on a platform above the marsh. He needs a variance from local authorities to build within the 100-foot setback from the shoreline required under Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Critical Area law.

Last December, Robert C. Wilcox, the county administrative hearing officer, ruled that Mr. Codd could build because the lot was legally subdivided before the environmental rules were adopted. But he required Mr. Codd to scale down the size of his home; build it at least 10 feet above the ground; locate it outside the wetland as much as possible; and re-create three times as much wildlife habitat as is destroyed.

But with the Board of Appeals ruling, Mr. Codd said he may ask the county to compensate him because environmental regulations adopted since the land was purchased have made it unusable.

Appeals board files show the lot was purchased by Mr. Codd's parents for about $6,000. The land retained its residential zoning, but its assessment value dropped from $8,940 in 1986 to $2,630 by 1989 because it was no longer considered a buildable lot.

If it could be developed, the lot would be worth more than $200,000, according to Board of Appeals files.

Mr. Codd's proposal sparked controversy when he introduced it last year, even though he said several times he would modify his plans the concerns of environmentalists and to curb environmental damage from construction.

He offered to reduce the size of the house from 2,160 square feet to 1,720 square feet, make other changes and plant how much and whatever wetland vegetation county and state officials require.

His opponents persisted, however, and are hailing the board decision as a victory.

"It's good to win one," Mr. Morris said. "Though only a one-house deal, it is an extremely important case. This is a wetland -- tidal or otherwise -- and it absolutely needs protection by the critical areas laws."

But Gerald W. Winegrad, a leading environmentalist who is retiring from the state Senate, worried this victory could lead to greater losses for the environmental cause. "It's a clear taking case," he said. "You can't deny someone any economic use of their land. This will lend fuel to the fire of those who would burn land use laws in the name of property rights."

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