Probe of tree clearing sought Environmentalists outraged over action at Trappe Creek site

August 03, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- An outraged environmental group said yesterday it plans to seek county and state assistance in determining whether a Worcester County homeowner has violated zoning laws by clearing the waterfront on his Trappe Creek property.

The property, two parcels totaling about 50 acres owned by developer and motel operator Kenny Baker, appears to have been cleared of trees at the waterline despite a county ordinance requiring a 25-foot buffer zone of plants for waterfront property.

Photographs accompanying a column by Tom Horton in yesterday's editions of The Sun show a bare waterfront, and local environmentalists, as well as one county commissioner, questioned yesterday whether the clearing had been legal.

"I think Mr. Baker should be made to restore that property -- replant with shrubs and trees. I'm going to pursue that," said Ilia Fehrer, president of the Worcester Environmental Protection Fund. "Trappe Creek is very delicate. It's one of the two most polluted waterways in Worcester County."

Her concern was echoed by Jeanne Lynch, a Worcester County commissioner.

"I would like to have the law enforced, vigorously in this case," Lynch said yesterday. The county zoning code requires a 50-foot setback and a 25-foot buffer, she said. "What you are not supposed to do is have nothing but lawn going down to the water."

Baker, who runs the Francis Scott Key motel in Ocean City, did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Fehrer also said she had asked the Maryland Department of the Environment to investigate whether the clearing represented violation of state laws designed to protect water quality.

However, enforcement activity of any kind -- or even an inspection of the Baker property -- was not planned by state or county agencies contacted by The Sun yesterday. County zoning officials told The Sun that they were aware of no violations at the site and didn't plan to inspect it until asked by the owner.

"We determined that there are no violations," said Hal Morris, Worcester County's planning director. "There was no need to issue any citations at this point.

"We don't do our enforcement by the newspaper. We've not gone on the property today. All we've got is some photographs in The Baltimore Sun."

Morris said the Baker property is under construction. Before certificate of occupancy is granted, he said, the county will make an inspection and determine if the setback rules have been met.

"There's a lot of flexibility in there," he said. In the case of an obvious violation, he said, the county can levy a $25 fine. If the violation is not promptly corrected, he said, the fine can be imposed on a daily basis.

Fehrer said that she had contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment, the agency responsible for tidal and nontidal wetlands. But a spokesman for MDE later told The Sun his agency would not be investigating the matter.

"We are not involved at all," said Quentin Banks. "This is a matter for the local county planning and zoning board."

The uncertainty over what rules apply to the property stems in part from its complicated history. The single farm property of about 156 acres, it was acquired by two developers and subdivided in 1974, according to Fehrer and her attorney, King Burnett.

At that time, the owners sought a zoning variance to develop the property. The Worcester Environmental Protection Fund opposed the higher density and a compromise was struck.

The agreement called for an easement -- a permanent restriction on the deed -- limiting the number of roads, piers and boat ramps that could be built. But the development fell through, and the property sat vacant for about a decade, Burnett said.

The property then passed to local developer Gene Parker, who divided it and sold two parcels of about 50 acres to Baker.

The deed restrictions say that no tree over two inches in diameter at a height of 4.5 feet from the ground can be cut, killed or removed within 50 feet of the water, unless allowed under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act, Burnett said. No wetlands may be filled or disturbed, the deed says.

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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