Hearings due on isle home

County board to hear arguments on house built without permits

April 16, 2006|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

The Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals will convene Wednesday the first of what could be several hearings concerning Daryl C. Wagner, the homebuilder who built a more than 5,000-square-foot house without permits on a small Magothy River isle known as Little Island.

The state Critical Area Commission, along with two environmental groups -- the Magothy River Association and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation -- filed an appeal after a county official granted retroactive variances in October allowing Wagner to keep his home.

Environmental groups assert that the county's willingness to preserve Wagner's home will encourage others to flout county and state land-use laws and cause irrevocable harm to the Chesapeake Bay watershed and wildlife. They are seeking to have the house destroyed.

"Whatever happens with Little Island will have a lasting effect on the Chesapeake Bay," Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association, said Friday.

The saga continues to unfold on other fronts. The Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that oversees wetlands and waters, is investigating whether Wagner violated federal law in building on Little Island, corps spokesman Chris Augsburger said Friday.

A lawsuit filed by the county last year seeks the demolition of Wagner's house. That lawsuit is proceeding independent of the October ruling by county administrative hearing officer Stephen M. LeGendre, which would allow Wagner to keep his home. LeGendre, however, said that Wagner must tear down a lighthouse, a pool, ad deck and a gazebo on the property.

The Board of Appeals hearings will serve as the latest stage for the confusing fight involving Wagner, the county, the state and environmental groups. The process is expected to continue into the summer.

Wagner, who owns Wagner Homes Inc. of Millersville, is thought lieved to be the first person to build a home in the Chesapeake Bay watershed without county permits, according to state officials. Zoning inspectors discovered the white house, with a replica lighthouse, pool and waterfront gazebo, in 2004.

Wagner obtained permits to make minor renovations to a house after buying the island in 2000, the county said. Instead, he demolished the house and built a lavish one in its place. It is the sole structure on the island near 7-acre Dobbins Island and Gibson Island.

Robert J. Fuoco, attorney for Wagner, has said his client built the house farther away from the shore to ensure less runoff into the Magothy. Wagner also sought to reduce erosion by lining the island's shoreline with rocks.

County zoning officials approved his completed structure once they were able to weigh the environmental merits, and they supported Wagner's request for retroactive variances to build within the state-designated 100-foot environmental buffer zone.

Fuoco could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Ren Serey, executive director of the Critical Area Commission, the state agency that oversees development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, said Friday that Wagner failed to make a case to county officials on the project's environmental impact before the new island dwelling was in place. Without county approval, the impact on building by or near the 100-foot zone known as a critical area buffer cannot be justified, Serey said.

"We believe he did not properly make his case, by going ahead and building without the necessary permits," Serey said. "The issue is minimizing the impact on critical areas, and he prevented the county a chance to comment on the size or location of the dwelling, the grading of the island or cutting down trees."

"This is pretty egregious," said John Surrick, spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"We're looking for the laws and process to work the way they're supposed to work. Usually, the inspectors can go out and look at the site, but in this case, they can't do that because the property's already been significantly cleared."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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