Anne Arundel seeks to protect marinas in neighborhoods

The story focuses on Anne Arundel County's rezoning of several marinas across the county. Kathy Galli owns the Severna Park Yacht Ba
(Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Kathy and James Galli have made some modest upgrades to their no-frills marina and boat-repair business in the decade that they've owned the property along the Severn River, mostly replacing outdated rigging and fixing broken equipment.

They might want to do more with the waterfront location someday — perhaps a restaurant or bar would be a draw — but such an addition seems out of reach for now. Like many of Anne Arundel County's marinas, Severna Park Yacht Basin is in a residential area, and it is allowed to operate there only because it dates to the 1930s, two decades before county zoning laws went into effect.

That fact has county officials concerned about what will happen if those marinas are sold — a change that could trigger the loss of jobs in an industry crucial to the local economy.

County planners are seeking to change the zoning designations at about a dozen marinas, ranging from small, private community clubs to larger boat-storage facilities. That move — designating the properties with maritime district zoning — is part of a broader effort to preserve access to the county's 533 miles of shoreline, the county says.

Some area residents worry that the changes could lead to unwanted growth, threatening the quiet residential communities and sensitive ecosystems that surround the facilities.

"As soon as they get that zoning, someone could come in and buy it and buy the house next door — you offer someone $2 million, and they're going to sell — and then there's some big marina," said Pat Lynch, president of the Broadneck Council. "The current owners may mean well, but the next owner is just going to do whatever he wants."

But James Galli, who helps manage the Severna Park Yacht Basin, favors the changes. "Everybody, when they hear 'commercial,' they lose their mind," he said. "We're not going to repair tugboats. We're not going to bring ocean liners in here and start fixing them."

While the marinas up for rezoning represent a small portion of the county's approximately 220 marinas, local officials see the zoning as a crucial part of ensuring future waterway access for the public. Without it, there's a potential that many of the smaller marinas would disappear — sold to developers who would find other uses for the valuable waterfront property.

Larry Tom, director of the county Office of Planning and Zoning, said officials have proposed many of the zoning changes simply to bring conformity to the zoning code, and the proposed changes take into consideration each marina's capacity and operations.

Additionally, he said, marina owners could be penalized for not having maritime zoning when attempting to obtain financing for expansion projects. The new designations help to ensure the marinas' viability, Tom said.

"The maritime industry is a significant part of Anne Arundel County's economic base," said Tom. "When we have the opportunity to preserve that, we take it."

Lynch said that while the county's goal of waterway access is a laudable one, more protections are needed in the maritime zoning designation for the communities where many small marinas are located.

For example, she said, giving marinas the ability to sell gasoline, which is allowed under some of the zoning designations, presents a safety issue in communities where roads are narrow and firefighters' access could be limited if an accident were to occur.

"If they want to add more access to the water, great — work on the county-owned property that they have and build some marinas," said Lynch.

The discussion, part of the county's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning process in the Pasadena area and along Annapolis' Broadneck Peninsula, plays out against the long-standing issue of guaranteeing waterfront access for the public.

The county doesn't operate any public boat ramps, though boaters can use Sandy Point State Park or Truxton Park, which is run by Annapolis.

County Councilman Derek Fink, a Republican from Pasadena, recently won initial county funding for a public boat ramp at Fort Smallwood Park, a project several years away from completion.

"We've got all this waterfront," said Fink. "We should be able to have access for our county residents."

Galli said the size of his marina, which has about 50 slips and land storage for 100 vessels, limits the potential for development. Still, he might want to offer other amenities such as a restaurant in the future.

"Nobody wants a bar or restaurant next to them, but they all want to go to bars and restaurants," said Galli.

Responding to some of those concerns, Council Chairman Richard Ladd, who represents the Broadneck area, has introduced legislation that would require marinas zoned for taverns and restaurants to get approval from the county before beginning such a business.

"Marinas depend on providing maritime service, rather than running a restaurant or a bar," said Ladd, a Republican. "They may not have the parking. They may not have the streets.

"I don't think it's appropriate to say, 'Oh, by the way, you can also put a restaurant and a tavern here.' I don't believe that's fair in the center of a residential community."

John White, owner of the Whitehall Yacht Yard in the Broadneck area, said he agreed with the county's recommendation that his marina, which accommodates about 120 boats, should be rezoned to a commercial maritime district — a designation some in the community disagree with.

White said the new zoning accounts for what his business already does, and he has no plans to add a restaurant or bar.

"The piers are already built out to the appropriate limits into the creek," said White. "The only way to increase the footprint on the water would be to purchase residential property on either side. The chance of that happening: never."


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