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New Annapolis law on approval standards prompts Port Wardens to delay Wells Cove floating dock decision

The Annapolis Port Wardens have delayed until next month an application by an Eastport property owner to install a floating dock at Wells Cove a day after the City Council passed a bill requiring the citizen-led body to consider public water access during their licensing and permitting process.

It is too early to tell how the law will impact decisions long-term, said Gene Godley, Port Wardens chair. He declined to discuss specific applications.

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“I think we just have to work with it a while and get the advice of the City Attorney’s office on what it means,” Godley said.

The sponsor of O-3-21, Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, had sought to clarify in the code that the group responsible for reviewing matters related to the city’s waterways must consider lateral lines, the invisible lines that separate useable waterways, which in turn impact public water access.

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The ordinance passed by a vote of 8-0, with one alderman abstaining. It takes effect immediately. As a result, the Port Wardens voted to wait until their March meeting to make final deliberations on an application submitted by Gerry Perham, the owner of 954 Creek Drive, to install an 8-by-14-foot floating kayak launch platform at the bulkhead of his property. Perham’s application was submitted in November after the platform had been installed.

“The Port Wardens need to consider when they are evaluating an application whether or not that application was granted would have the effect of blocking off access to the water,” Arnett said in an interview Tuesday. “That was implicit in the code from the get-go, but I made it explicit just to be sure that they understand this is a policy of council that we protect these water access points.”

Some Eastport residents have complained the dock blocks public water access off of Boucher Avenue. The access point is the same location that is now the subject of a lawsuit against the city brought by two Eastport residents. The city’s Port Wardens group is tasked with overseeing and approving structures built on and along the water, such as piers, marinas and wharves.

Wells Cove (Spa Creek) public water access located between 1006 and 1008 Boucher Avenue in Annapolis. Public access and canoe/kayak launch center-left. The Annapolis City Council passed legislation requiring Port Wardens to consider public access to water when making decisions, a move aimed at maintaining access at sites like Wells Cove.
Wells Cove (Spa Creek) public water access located between 1006 and 1008 Boucher Avenue in Annapolis. Public access and canoe/kayak launch center-left. The Annapolis City Council passed legislation requiring Port Wardens to consider public access to water when making decisions, a move aimed at maintaining access at sites like Wells Cove. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Capital Gazette)

In the meantime, the wardens have asked several questions of the applicant and the City Law Office, including clarification on whether there is an easement on a 15-foot-wide landing and connected pathway that stretches to Boucher Avenue. There were other questions about the ownership rights of a piling that appears to reside in water owned by Perham and could also potentially be blocking public water access. At the meeting, all parties agreed to take the next month to find answers to resolve the matter.

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During the meeting, Godley said public comment would be accepted but only related to the specific questions raised by the Port Wardens. The meeting can be viewed on the city’s boards and commissions Youtube page.

Decisions by the Port Wardens may be appealed to the Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

The city has sought another solution to the problem by inquiring if Perham would be willing to allow an easement onto his property for the public to use his kayak dock but have not heard back, Arnett said.

Wells Cove (Spa Creek) public water access (center) located between 1006 and 1008 Boucher Avenue in Annapolis. Public access and canoe/kayak launch left-center. The Annapolis City Council passed legislation requiring Port Wardens to consider public access to water when making decisions, a move aimed at maintaining access at sites like Wells Cove.
Wells Cove (Spa Creek) public water access (center) located between 1006 and 1008 Boucher Avenue in Annapolis. Public access and canoe/kayak launch left-center. The Annapolis City Council passed legislation requiring Port Wardens to consider public access to water when making decisions, a move aimed at maintaining access at sites like Wells Cove. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Capital Gazette)

Perham, who declined to comment for this article, referred to written testimony he submitted on the city’s website Monday night about O-3-21.

“Public water access is important for the vitality of all Annapolis citizens, but should not be created by encroaching on the water rights and developable waterways of adjoining property owners,” Perham wrote. “O-3-21 is an attempt to chip away at private property to give to public use and is a violation of Amendment 5 of the U.S. Constitution. The established paths for such situations include good-faith negotiation with property owners or eminent domain. If the City wants water access to the harbor line in Wells Cove it should purchase the right by using Program Open Space funds.”

Perham, and his attorney Charles Schaller attended Tuesday’s Port Wardens meeting. Perham thanked the Port Wardens and the city for seeking a solution to the issue.

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