Landowners bewildered by process Md. Critical Area Law limits plans to build.


For the Somogyis, whose family has farmed its eastern Baltimore County bayside land since before the Great Depression, the latest review of their waterfront building plans seems just one more part of a bewildering process. They feel they've lost the right to build anything on their 90 acres.

Baltimore County is in the midst of reviewing proposals by the Somogyis and five others for the right to develop protected land next to Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries.

The state's 7-year-old Critical Area law provides jurisdictions some leeway in allowing development near the bay. In Baltimore County, up to 170 acres on its eastern fringe are eligible for development. County officials are now choosing among initial plans to see which they will allow.

Most of the plans of the six applicants call for building a few houses on land zoned for only one house every 20 acres.

Only a plan by Browning-Ferris Industries is more ambitious. The trash-disposal company is seeking permission to build one or two large warehouse office buildings on or near its former Norris Farm landfill on Back River.

Another applicant merely wants to protect his machine shop on less than an acre from being zoned out of existence. The other three want to build a few houses each, and maybe one small commercial store on their low-lying land.

A county government committee set up to evaluate all of the proposals has recommended Planning Board approval for only one, but procedural objections from Debra Dopkin, BFI's attorney, have delayed the board's consideration of the various plans until a meeting July 11.

Once recommendations are made by the board, they will be forwarded to the Council County, which will hold a public hearing, take action, amend county zoning maps and forward the whole thing to the state Critical Area Commission for its review and approval. Landowners unable to get Planning Board approval can appeal to the county Board of Appeals.

The Somogyis -- Julius; his sisters, Caroline Somogyi Brehm and Marie Somogyi Dieckman; and Marie's husband, Herb -- who range in age from 68 to 80 years, have lived and farmed their land as their parents did, starting in 1924.

They had planned to sell or develop it to help finance their retirement, but the Critical Area law, adopted in 1984, changed all that. The zoning was changed to permit no more than one house per 20 acres in 1988, over their strenuous objection. Because their land won't accommodate a septic system, they can't build on it until at least 1994, when a limited sewer system is due for the Back River Neck Peninsula.

They are seeking permission to sell or develop the land under the growth allocation procedure, but they don't have a concrete plan and seem helpless to navigate the government processes, except to complain that their land on Back River, just south of Muddy Gut, has in effect been confiscated by the state.

David C. Flowers, the county environmental official in charge, said they submitted no specific plan so the county recommended against approving any changes.

Caroline Somogyi said they didn't know what to submit because they don't know what the county will allow.

The only proposal the committee did approve was one submitted for eight acres next to the Somogyi property that Mildred B. Gunter owns at 1014 Back River Neck Road. She wants to build four houses on six acres, and get commercial zoning on two other contiguous acres for some type of retail store facing Cherry Garden Road.

The committee also does not object to Roscoe Phipps continuing to operate his machine shop on less than an acre at 1220 Back River Neck Road. His shop predates the 1945 introduction of zoning in the county.

The committee disapproved of proposals by Emily Gail to build seven homes on 23 acres on Bowleys Quarters Road near Galloway Creek, and by Guy Shaneybrook to build eight homes on 15 acres in Bowleys Quarters on Seneca Creek.

Flowers said these plans, like that of BFI, did not have sufficient community benefit or enough information.

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