Residents group succeeds in stopping plans for pier

Judge rules access to Severn shore under local association's control

Metro

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June 07, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

A Severna Park community association has apparently thwarted a couple's efforts to build a bridge and pier - the equivalent length of two football fields - from their home onto the Severn River.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom ruled this month that Paul and Joan Gunby do not have the legal right to build onto Sullivan Cove from their house on 2.2 acres along the river. The couple had received a license from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

In rejecting the couple's bid, Caroom sided with the Olde Severna Park Improvement Association, which said it was given control of the water rights around the cove in the 1920s as part of the original development plan.

Generations of owners since have sought to protect the vast section of the shoreline from further development, association members said. Residents rely on two community piers on the cove's north side.

"We have always had the rights to Sullivan Cove," said Corky Vazquez, a co-president of the improvement association. "What the court decision did was establish that right."

The controversy is the latest over development of Anne Arundel's increasingly popular shoreline, which is becoming known for its palatial waterfront homes.

Vazquez and Neil Schwartz, the other co-president, said they hope the decision will embolden other communities to keep such beach development at bay.

The Gunbys' attorney, Frederick C. Sussman, said they are likely to appeal the judge's ruling.

MDE approved last year the couple's request to build a 410-foot bridge over a tidal pond and a connecting 200-foot pier onto Sullivan Cove, a 25-acre body of water, wetlands and coastline along the Severn.

In September, the 400-family community got an injunction to halt the project.

Sussman said that his clients were unaware that the 1920 house on Old County Road they bought in 1991 had restricted water access to Sullivan Cove. Most of the Gunbys' property consists of a tidal pond and marshes near the cove.

When the Olde Severna Park Improvement Association got wind of the Gunbys' plans, its members banded together to reaffirm that the association controlled water-access rights within the community, including from the Gunbys' 2,703-square-foot house.

The original developer, the Severna Co., gave the community the option of retaining the waterfront rights, association members said.

Vazquez and Schwartz said that none of the 20 or so owners of beachfront properties there had challenged the community's ownership of the waterfront because of their appreciation of the landscape.

"It is truly a gem of the Severn River," Vazquez said. "It is truly undeveloped."

Representatives for the improvement association, the Gunbys and MDE were back in court yesterday before Croom to argue the soundness of the state agency's decision to issue the Gunbys a license to build over the tidal pond.

Robert C. Douglas, a lawyer for the community, said that MDE acted before determining which party possessed the water access rights. But Adam Snyder, a lawyer for the agency, countered that "one has the right to access his own property."

Reached yesterday afternoon, Sussman noted that MDE reduced the width of the pier from 6 feet to 3 feet. These and other changes, he argued, spoke to the state agency's concerns for the tidal pond, nearby wetlands and other undeveloped sections of the cove.

"It acted properly with a significant amount of attention," he said.

Croom said he would rule on whether to revoke the license - a formality - within two weeks.

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