Couple may remodel home despite law

January 04, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A Round Bay couple has persuaded Anne Arundel County officials to permit them to build an addition to their house for their 10-year-old daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, even though the addition would violate the state Critical Areas law.

The addition to the home of John and Lisa McGovern in the 200 block of Severn River Road would include a bedroom for a live-in aide for their daughter, Carley, who is confined to a wheel chair, and an elevator. Officials said the addition would make the home too large for the lot and too close to the water.

But Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox said he approved the addition because "the better answer is to help."

Mr. McGovern, who has spent $10,000 in engineering and legal fees, said he and his wife are "very pleased with the decision."

"I understand it could have been denied, so I'm very appreciative," he said.

The McGoverns' two-story colonial home just east of the Severn River is in a Limited Development Area within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area. They had proposed a 645-square-foot addition that would have included an in-ground swimming pool as well as the bedroom and elevator.

"Up until now, we could carry Carley up the stairs," Mr. McGovern said. "But now she's 10 years old, and her size is becoming an issue. Plus, the house has to be accessible to her."

The pool would have been used for therapy, he said.

The Maryland Critical Areas Commission and the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement testified in November that the McGovern home, built before the law was adopted in 1984, already takes up more of the lot than it could under the law. And the pool would have made it worse, they said. The agencies recommended denying the McGoverns' permission for the addition.

In his ruling, Mr. Wilcox rejected the pool as a purely social device. But he allowed the addition, he said, because of the limited impact it would have on the environment.

"Would it affect the environment? Definitely," he said. "But you step on a blade of grass, and you affect the environment. That can be too unrealistic at times."

Mr. Wilcox noted that his decision could be appealed.

"But I see rules -- Critical Area and otherwise -- as being made to better the lives of all of us," he said.

"I want to see government be more responsive to cases like this. How can you say no?"

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