Prosecutor clears Harford executive, attorney in Perryman land transfer

Bad survey meant county had no right to property

September 27, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Maryland's top prosecutor has found no criminal wrongdoing by Harford's county executive and county attorney in a land transaction early this year that involved a developer with political ties to the administration.

Republican County Executive James M. Harkins released a letter yesterday written by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli analyzing the countys decision to relinquish its claim in January to 3.12 acres of land and water on the Bush River, allowing Gablers Shore Marina LLC to take title.

The county said it had no right to the property because it was acquired in error as part of a conservation package put together in the 1990s.

No misconduct

"There is no question that a mistake was made in the deed due to a faulty or lack of a proper survey," Montanarelli wrote. "We find no misconduct in the decision to forsake any claim to the property."

Harkins pointed to this passage in the four-page letter several times yesterday, saying that he and his staff had been left to clean up the "shoddy" work of former Executive Eileen M. Rehrmanns administration in acquiring the land, which is on the Perryman peninsula.

The matter, he said, "is not a question of whose land it was. It's a question of where the property line was."

The Rehrmann administration bought the acreage from the Harford Land Trust to preserve an inland lake, tidal inlet, wetlands and woodlands called the Forest Greens Lake Preserve.

Harkins and Deputy County Attorney Robert McCord, who handled the transaction, maintain that the land was received in error.

Marina on the land

The survey of the 3.12 acres, used in the 1990s land transfer between the land trust and the county, was dated and did not show a marina that had operated on the site since the late 1930s, McCord said.

The existence of that business precludes any public right to that property, the county has said.

The error was discovered late last year when Gablers Shore LLC was in the process of buying about 15 acres that includes the old Bush River Boat Works, the former Gablers crab house and adjoining lots where houses and vacation trailers remain. The site will require extensive cleanup of aged septic systems that are leaking sewage into the Bush River.

The group has submitted plans to the county for a 75-slip marina, boat shop and restaurant on a portion of the property.

Gablers Shore LLCs investors are Robert Hockaday, an Abingdon antiques dealer; Dr. Richard Streett, a Churchville veterinarian; Robert Freeze, a Timonium commercial real estate agent; and Robert Geis, a Lutherville lawyer with Venable Baetjer and Howard. Geis has contributed $2,100 to Harkins election campaign.

Montanarelli was asked to investigate the matter less than two weeks before the Sept. 10 primary by Del. B. Daniel Riley, a Democrat who represents Perryman.

Riley and others objected that the county filed a quit-claim deed, allowing Gablers Shore to take title to the 3.12 acres without public hearings.

Riley said of the decision:"Anytime deals are made like that, they should be made in the public forum. The public has a right ... to input, and things shouldn't be done behind closed doors. What may be legally right is not morally or ethically right."

Disputes not unusual

But Harkins said that property-line disputes such as this happen regularly, especially in farmland preservation cases."Every piece of paper does not get signed by the County Council," he said. "I can't tell you there's a legislative remedy to deal with this. It would bog down the system.

The county executive termed the allegations of wrongdoing "the sleaziest of gutter politics that I have seen in all my years in this county."

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