Local control sought for lake Sale of Deep Creek is not expected to spawn fast changes

'I'm not alarmed'

Md. group forming with goal of buying resort from N.J. utility lTC

March 08, 1998|By Cindy Stacy | Cindy Stacy,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OAKLAND -- Despite the uncertainty of what new ownership at Deep Creek Lake might do to everything from property values to dock fees, real estate brokers in this Western Maryland resort area are optimistic that the status quo will be protected.

"I have a little concern, but I'm not alarmed," said Karen Myers, manager of A & A Realty/Long & Foster's Garrett County office. "I'm heavily invested in Deep Creek property myself, and I've been around the system long enough to know the way the system operates. The fact that Maryland owns the water is a fail-safe, so there won't be a dramatic change."

But when the lake's owner, GPU Energy of New Jersey, decided to put the 73-year-old lake up for sale last week, it accelerated a plan that many in Garrett County had already contemplated: gaining local control of Maryland's largest freshwater lake.

"It's an opportunity to finally have the lake be in local hands," said Gerald Polansky, president of the 1,200-member Deep Creek Lake Property Owners Association, who has been talking with GPU Energy since October, when the utility announced plans to divest 26 hydroelectric plants.

Polansky said "everyone's cooperating" to organize a consortium that would include property owners, the Garrett County Commissioners, the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources and others "with the objective of owning the lake and power generating facility."

He said the exact mechanisms are not yet in place because "it's very early in the process." But Polansky -- like those who deal with Deep Creek Lake real estate -- is bullish on the future.

"I have the utmost confidence in the people looking out for the situation," said Bill Weissgerber, associate broker and co-owner of Railey Realty in McHenry. "The state of Maryland is not going to let anyone do anything detrimental to Deep Creek Lake."

Since the lake's sale was made public last week, Weissgerber said he had received about 20 calls from customers and property owners wanting his "take" on the news and whether a change in lake ownership would hurt property values.

"I'm a logical person," Weissgerber said. "No developer or greedy person would come in and try to take away somebody's water rights. I tend to see Maryland, the county or property owners buying the lake and it'll probably be better."

He recalled other "scares" involving the lake, such as the 1984 dock moratorium that threatened growth, and the installation of public sewerage in 1986.

"I've lived here 25 years," Weissgerber said, "and there are no more boats at any one time on the lake now than there were 25 years ago."

Ed King, associate broker with A & A Realty/Long & Foster, who recently listed the lake's first $1 million-plus home and specializes in lake properties, predicts a "minimal" change with a new lake owner because state and county leaders and several interested groups have stayed abreast of the potential sale.

As to lake property values, he said, it takes a year to establish a trend in real estate because general property values typically are determined from transactions over six to 12 months.

"It's not as quick as the stock market," King said, adding that he'd received "only two phone calls" from clients asking about ramifications of the lake sale.

Besides the hydroelectric plant, the utility owns the lake's bottom and a 100-foot buffer strip around 90 percent of its 63-mile shoreline. Some property owners, with lakefront homes or businesses, worry that a new lake owner might exploit lake access or hinder economic development.

Longtime Deep Creek resident Judy Finkel said not all property owners favor the association buying the lake. "We don't know what it's going to cost," she said.

Wendell Beitzel, owner of the Point View Inn and Restaurant, wants to make sure the state or county remains involved in the process.

"If the wrong party would get it," he said, "there's no doubt there would be a short-term negative impact on property sales."

But King believes such "fear statements" are more damaging to real estate values than the actual situation.

He said the buffer strip can't be exploited because of safeguards already in place, including a lake watershed zoning ordinance and the fact that "there's no access, except across existing properties, to over 90 percent of the buffer strip."

Polansky also sees no reason "for people to get nervous," especially considering how both sides are handling the sale.

"The posture of GPU is that they're utilizing a very sophisticated method" of selling the lake and plant, he explained. "They have retained Wall Street's Goldman Sachs to work with them to engineer the whole process.

"It's virtually a once-in-a-lifetime effort. This is all brand new. They've retained expert people and we will too.

"You've got to remember Deep Creek Lake was formed to generate power. You've got to have on your team a company that knows how to operate a power plant. That's the reason you go for a consortium. It's early yet, but we're on top of it."

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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