Md. Court of Appeals rules for owners in pier dispute

December 04, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

Neighbors do not have the authority to stop property owners from building a 610-foot pier and bridge, the state's highest court ruled unanimously yesterday, dealing a decisive blow to a Severna Park community association.

The Court of Appeals upheld a February ruling by the Court of Special Appeals, which found that Paul and Joan Gunby had the right to expect access to a Severn River cove, and that it had never been expressly denied.

The case is expected to return to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, which had sided with Olde Severna Park Improvement Association Inc., for a ruling on the issuance of a state license to allow the 410-foot bridge and connecting 200-foot pier.

Since the three-year fight began, the Gunbys sold the 2.2-acre property on Sullivan Cove to Dann and Janet Thomasson, who were persuaded to pursue the case.

"The significant part of this decision is that it reinforces the long-standing principle that someone who purchases waterfront property expects to obtain riparian rights, unless the conveyance of riparian rights is expressing excluded in the deed," said Frederick C. Sussman, an attorney representing the Thomassons.

Janet Thomasson said she and her husband would not comment on the ruling. State property records show that the Thomassons bought the property on Old County Road in June last year for $2 million.

Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom said in June 2005 that the Gunbys didn't have the right to build into Sullivan Cove because the community association held the riparian rights. The community said it was given that authority in a 1931 development plat.

The Court of Special Appeals overturned the ruling in March, finding that no property deeds going back 50 years explicitly stated that the community association reserved the water rights.

The Court of Appeals ruled 7-0 after oral arguments Nov. 2.

Paul Gunby, who now lives in Trappe, called the ruling "absolutely the right decision."

"The system worked eventually," said Gunby. "It just took a lot of time and money to get there."

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