Court reverses decision on waterfront property

March 02, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

A Severna Park neighborhood does not have absolute control over its waterfront, the Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday, an apparent win for a couple who intended to build a 610-foot bridge and pier into the Severn River.

The decision by the state's second-highest court effectively reverses a 2005 ruling by an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge. In siding with Paul and Joan Gunby, the appeals court said that waterfront property owners "usually expected" to gain rights to water access, "unless those rights are clearly and expressly excluded."

The lower court said the Gunbys lacked the authority to build onto Sullivan Cove from their house on 2.2 acres along the river because the Olde Severna Park Improvement Association held the riparian rights around the cove. The community said it was given that authority in a 1931 development plat.

The appeals court said the Gunbys' property deed, or any of the previous deeds in the past 50 years, did not explicitly state that the community association reserved the water rights.

As part of the yesterday's decision, the lower court must hold a trial to determine whether the Maryland Department of the Environment properly weighed environmental law in granting a license to the Gunbys for the bridge and pier. Judge Philip T. Caroom had not ruled on those considerations because he said the community association held the water-access rights.

An attorney for the community association, Robert C. Douglas, said: "It's too soon to know what the community will want to do."

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