Nonprofit pays fine for illegal work

Red-faced foundation found tenant violating bay laws it instigated

July 25, 2008|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

The bulldozing and tree-clearing occurred on environmentally sensitive soil about a hundred yards from the Chesapeake Bay - the kind of violation the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is accustomed to reporting.

The nonprofit turned in the violator: itself.

The organization also paid a $10,000 fine this week to the Anne Arundel County government for the illegal work on a half-acre of the foundation's Holly Beach Farm property. Foundation officials said the grading was performed by a developer and his wife who lease the land. They said the organization - whose mission is to restore and protect the bay - had never authorized the work without a permit.

"We immediately called the county and said, 'Look, we've got a problem here,'" said Mary Tod Winchester, the nonprofit group's vice president for administration. Noting that the violations involved laws for which the foundation lobbied, she said, "This law is there because we wanted it there."

The story was first reported by the Annapolis Capital.

Supervising County Attorney Nancy Duden said the fines were issued for illegal grading and "unauthorized development activity in a critical area." She said the tenants were not issued a permit to build on the area in question.

The foundation reported itself earlier this year, she added.

"They were extremely cooperative," Duden said. "They have made sure that immediate mitigation began to try to rectify the situation, and they voluntarily paid the fine."

The work occurred on 5 acres leased by Annapolis developer Jerome Parks and his wife, Duden said. The couple were attempting to build a barn.

When county inspectors went to the site in May, a half-acre had been dug up and a gravel driveway installed, Duden said. Earth-moving equipment sat nearby.

Attempts to reach Jerome Parks yesterday were unsuccessful.

Winchester said the tenants notified the foundation last year of their plans to file an application with the county for a permit to build the barn. This spring, officials from the foundation saw work being done on the property and checked to see whether a permit had been issued. They could find none on record, they said.

"The fact that their permit application was not filed is very disturbing," Winchester said. "It was a major violation."

The construction occurred in the state-designated critical area, which restricts development around the bay.

In 2007, the county collected about $81,000 on 325 citations for illegal work in the critical area. But the county rarely issues individual fines of $10,000, Duden said.

Winchester said the Parkses reimbursed the foundation for the fines. The foundation might attempt to get out of the lease with the couple and remove them from the property, she said.

"We don't want people going in and grading property without a permit," Winchester said. "That is a very important part of the process."

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