Deep Creek Lake plan worries landowners

State's plan to purchase attraction might inhibit access to water, they say

June 26, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The state's planned $7.8 million purchase of Deep Creek Lake, Western Maryland's leading tourist attraction, has spurred concerns among lakeside property owners that the sale could lead to unwanted development or cost them money to preserve their access to the water.

Some property owners -- and officials of Garrett County, where the lake is located -- are urging the state to buy not only Deep Creek, but 600 acres that border the lake.

The 74-year-old man-made lake and the 600 acres are owned by GPU Inc., a Morristown, N.J.-based utility that is selling its Maryland holdings.

"My association would prefer that the state resolve the matter either through acquiring the remaining 600 acres or having a clear understanding of what can or cannot be done to that land," said Roger Titus, a Rockville lawyer who heads the Deep Creek Lake Property Owners Association.

Garrett County Commissioner Wendell R. Beitzel, who owns Deep Creek property, agreed that the best solution would be for the state to buy all of the GPU property, including the 600 acres of so-called surplus property.

Most of that property consists of undevelopable slivers of land bordering the lakefront. Other pieces -- a dozen or more -- are bigger and could be developed, state and county officials say.

Owners of lake properties worry that they could lose their rights to cross those slivers to use the lake. And owners of property abutting the bigger parcels worry that they might not be able to acquire them once GPU puts them on the market.

"If it's offered for sale, a large portion of that surplus property could be subdivided," Beitzel said. "I think it would be a real mistake for the state not to acquire the whole buffer strip."

At minimum, Beitzel said, the state should insist that GPU sell the surplus property only to owners of adjacent property.

The state and GPU announced a tentative agreement on the purchase of the 3,700-acre lake and a 1,000-acre buffer zone in late March, after almost a year of discussions. Negotiations have continued over a final purchase contract.

At the time of the March announcement, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said that despite the sale, "the status quo will be preserved" for property owners and vacationers.

Edward J. Shultz, a spokesman for GPU, said the company is developing a plan for selling the 600 acres and that Deep Creek Lake property owners will be treated fairly.

"I can assure you that the property owners will get the opportunity to purchase the adjacent land," Shultz said. "We're going to do everything we can to work with them."

Shultz and state officials, are scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Deep Creek Lake Property Owners Association today.

Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening, said the state has insisted in its negotiations with GPU that Deep Creek property owners be given first shot at buying developable utility property between their properties and the lake.

As for the slivers of land that are too small for new building, the state has taken the position that those properties should be turned over to the state, the county or owners of adjacent properties, Morrill said.

The state will insist on such protections in any final purchase agreement, Morrill said. "We will not proceed if [GPU's] idea is to somehow hijack the property owners," he said.

Morrill said it would be too expensive to purchase the 600 acres and the lake. "We're willing to do what's reasonable," Morrill said. "But the state is buying the lake for the citizens of Maryland, not the adjacent property owners."

Pub Date: 6/26/99

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