One man, one deck, one bay Chesapeake's 'Critical Area': Building illegally near shoreline is not a harmless act.

November 20, 1997

FRANK CITRANO may see himself as the noble suburban property owner waging a principled fight to save his waterside deck from the monolithic state government. He has himself miscast. His role more resembles that of someone who flouted the rules that govern development within 100 feet of the Chesapeake Bay.

The argument that his 15-by-20 foot deck overlooking the Magothy River is harmless to the environment misses the point of the state's Critical Areas law that established a "no build" buffer around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in 1988. The law sought to control all shoreline construction to minimize destruction of natural vegetation and topography.

To build in the zone, a person needs permission -- something Mr. Citrano failed to obtain. He built his deck without any approvals and now must suffer the consequences. Even though the county appeals board and state courts have refused to rule in his favor, Mr. Citrano insists on tilting at windmills. His legal bills now total $30,000 by his estimate.

Mr. Citrano contends his small deck doesn't degrade the environment, but the issue is larger than he and his deck in 1997. What happens to the bay if thousands of shoreline property owners do the same? The General Assembly concluded the cumulative effect of building shorefront swimming pools, decks and gazebos would be devastating and must be regulated.

Shorelines are fragile and subject to natural forces. Once decks and the like are built, owners go to great lengths to protect them. They may want to build sea walls or install rip rap to fend off erosion. The deck that Mr. Citrano fights for today may have to be buttressed against erosion long after he has sold the property. These "improvements" ultimately harm the Chesapeake Bay by removing shoreline grasses, vegetation and trees that act as natural filters.

Tens of millions of federal and state dollars are spent to protect valuable shorefront properties in Ocean City in order to replenish sand that continually washes away. If unfettered building were allowed on the Chesapeake, taxpayers -- who might sympathize with a case of Joe Homeowner fighting Big Government -- would find themselves saddled with more bills to protect shoreline investments.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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