Arundel sues marina operator

County says Herrington Harbour was built near bay without permits

March 29, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

As part of an aggressive new campaign against unlawful building, Anne Arundel County yesterday sued one of its most prominent businessmen to raze a wedding chapel, a rooming house, sheds and walking trails constructed without permits at one of his two massive marinas.

The county also accuses Herrington Harbour Inc., whose president is E. Steuart Chaney, of illegally building offices, a gazebo over the water and a pier into the Chesapeake Bay, and installing septic and well systems for the rooming house without approval, all over several years, at his marina in Rose Haven, at the Calvert County line.

Chaney, whose family roots in southern Anne Arundel County go back nearly 350 years, and his representatives have been meeting with county permits officials to draft a plan to correct the violations at Herrington Harbour South, county officials said.

"There will be no sacred cows at the trough," said County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican who took office in December. "Everyone will receive this message that this administration will maintain an even playing field."

He called the recent building at Herrington Harbour "an egregious violation that requires stern action."

Chaney, who with his businesses gave at least $4,000 last year to Leopold's rival for county executive, could not be reached for comment. Messages left for other relatives were not returned.

The county's civil suit comes as Leopold is taking a strong enforcement stance against illegal building, especially along Anne Arundel's 530 miles of shoreline.

In January, Leopold asked state lawmakers to extend the statue of limitations from one to three years for building and grading violations committed within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, also known as the critical area. In February, he introduced a county bill that would impose a $500-a-day fine on those who live in homes built without permits.

Leopold is also pushing ahead with a civil lawsuit, filed by the county in 2005, to force the demolition of a palatial home built without permits on an island in the Magothy River.

County inspectors visited the Rose Haven marina Dec. 12, eight days after Leopold took office. The Army Corps of Engineers had contacted the county in September to question the presence of the two-story rooming house.

According to its Web site, Herrington Harbour includes a large "north" working marina, yacht yard, restaurant and charter boats at Tracys Landing, and more than 600 slips, a resort, trails and an Olympic-size swimming pool in Rose Haven.

The county alleges several unauthorized improvements, including a large bulkhead, outbuildings, gazebo, pier and chapel. Also, county inspectors noted that at least several hundred feet of riprap is inappropriately elevated above a section of marshland and that several walkways were built without approval.

Chaney's representatives met with federal and state agencies on March 8 about updating his development plan for the marina, said Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Robert Ballenger, who added that there would be no complications with Chaney's state wetlands permit for pier access.

"He's trying to figure out what things he needs permits for and what he doesn't have," county inspections and permits Director Betty Dixon said.

Herrington Harbour was certified a Maryland Clean Marina in 1999 and named marina of the year in 1996 by Marina Dock Age magazine. A sign at the entrance proclaims the marina is the "most environmentally safe."

In a 2003 interview published in the magazine, Chaney said that he created soft shorelines that "truthfully weren't allowed by law at the time they were done" but that regulators later held up as a model.

Chaney is also revered as a community booster who opens his property to fundraisers for local causes and as a preservationist. He has amassed nearly a dozen 19th-century structures -- from the one-room schoolhouse where his great-aunt taught to a two-seat outhouse with its original window -- and reassembled them on the property of his marina in Tracys Landing.

Friends expressed disbelief that the county had sued him.

"People get charged with anything these days," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat. "I just know that he's a decent, honest, hardworking man, and a good family person who in my opinion is a law-abiding citizen." phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Andrea F. Siegel and Ruma Kumar contributed to this report.

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