Judge forbids parties at St. Helena mansion

June wedding to go on as exception to rule

May 28, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A Circuit judge prohibited a Crownsville man yesterday from using his mansion on St. Helena Island to hold weddings and other affairs -- except for the nuptials of one anxious June bride who's been worrying about the court decision. Her wedding will go on as planned.

Judge Joseph P. Manck said he believed Keith Osborne, who owns the Annapolis-based Fantasy Island Management Inc., had used the island for commercial purposes in violation of county zoning laws.

Osborne will have to cancel the two September weddings he booked on his 6-acre island. Still, county attorney Lynn Robeson worried that Osborne might continue to use his property commercially by leasing the house -- a practice of many Annapolitans during the weeks in which events bring floods of tourists to the city.

Robeson asked the court to prohibit Osborne from leasing or advertising his property and proposed that the county be allowed access to the island during parties, be given copies of contracts for engagements or be given schedules of when Osborne planned private gatherings in order to make sure he was complying with the court's order.

Manck said he wondered how he could avoid encroaching on the rights of a private landowner.

"What authority do I have to tell a private resident what he can or cannot do on his own property?" Manck asked Robeson during her closing arguments.

Robeson and defense attorney Samuel J. Brown have 10 days to submit suggestions on how to enforce the injunction.

Controversy over the island began when the county sued Osborne's company in October, arguing that Osborne was running a commercial operation on the property. The property, with its replica of the Homewood House on the Johns Hopkins University campus, is zoned for residential use.

Osborne has held parties at the house since 1997, irritating his neighbors in Little Round Bay communities. Residents of Crownsville and Annapolis have opposed Osborne's attempts since 1997 to get permission to operate a private club.

Annapolis residents worry that the club would mean hundreds of wedding guests parking in their city while they take chartered cruises from City Dock to the island 45 minutes away. Crownsville residents objected to party music across the Severn River late at night. Allowing the club could also invite a loophole in zoning laws that other owners of quaint homes could exploit, residents say.

"You could take any number of properties, call yourself a private club, and get around all sorts of zoning laws," said Kathleen Winters, who lives in Palisades on the Severn, one of seven communities that nearly encircle the island.

Yesterday, Osborne testified that he asked five workers from the county Planning and Code Enforcement office and a county attorney to tour the property in 1997. He said he was told there was no problem with having a country club on the property, but that legislation would have to be introduced. The legislation was submitted and withdrawn, Brown said.

The next year, after Osborne applied for a permit to operate a club, then-PACE director Steven R. Cover told Osborne he needed on-site parking for the club.

"We agreed we would arrange for parking in Annapolis," Osborne said in court yesterday. "I understood that the permit would be issued."

Instead, Osborne had to apply for a variance, which county administrative hearing officer Stephen M. LeGendre denied after 40 residents protested at a February hearing. A Board of Appeals hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 14 in the Arundel Center.

Leah Hafer of Orchard Beach and her groom-to-be Scott Van Der Meid of Laurel had anxiously followed the court proceeding.

"We did a lot of praying," Van Der Meid said after the judge ruled yesterday. "Who we feel sorry for is the other couples."

Added Hafer, who still has details from flowers to scheduling to pursue: "I'm still stressed out."

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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