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Ulmstead Cove left high and dry as council backtracks on piers


Ulmstead Cove residents don't have big plans for their waterfront.

They just want a modest pier -- an L-shaped, wooden structure that would reach 30 feet into Forked Creek and give the community better access to a small patch of the Chesapeake Bay, making it easier to crab, fish and swim.

"It's not like we want a big marina or anything, just a little pier," said Richard Handelman, vice president of the 38-home Ulmstead Cove Community Association on the Broadneck Peninsula.

But the community's application for a pier permit has been put on hold since December by a county government that must first decide a key question concerning its 432 miles of shoreline: Who should have access to the water and under what restrictions?

The County Council enacted a law in November legalizing community recreational piers. The law designated them as those strictly for a community's use, to be built on community association- or county-owned land. It included a prohibition against docking boats.

The legislation came in response to concerns from neighbors in Atlantis, another Broadneck community, where residents complained that county codes put too much red tape in the way of constructing a 320-foot pier for their community.

The county's handling of the issue serves as an example of government solving a problem for one group, only to create one for another. It has also seemed to be of two minds: The council put a moratorium on constructing such piers a month after legalizing them.

In the weeks after It passed the law, the council was besieged by environmentalists concerned that it could open the door to a plethora of piers.

Gretel Derby, president of the Cape St. Claire improvement Association, said her group fought the legislation because the increased access to the bay would create pollution problems. She said it also would created parking problems in neighborhoods where piers are erected, and endanger swimmers and boaters because the piers would be too close to each other.

"My concern was that in trying to accommodate a specific situation, bad legislation was written." she said.

In response to such concerns, the council in mid-December imposed the moratorium on recreational piers. Last month, the council voted to extend that moratorium until Nov. 15.

Councilwoman Diane Evans. who sponsored both the pier bill and the moratorium, said more time is needed to resolve the thorny Issue.

Evans said she will Introduce legislation in July that she hopes will address most of the concerns. At the very least, she said, it will spawn discussion.

"I fully expect a lot of emotion on this," she said.

She added that her legislation "is not going to appeal to everyone, because there are a lot of people who have very strong feelings about use of the water."

But residents of Ulmstead Cove say that summertime's wasting away - and they've remained pier-less for too long. The 3-year-old community is the only one to apply for a permit since the moratorium was imposed, said Robert Caffrey, a planner for the Department of Inspections and Permits.

David Handelsman, president of the Ulmstead association, said the community feels it's been shortchanged.

The community developer, Bradley Investment Corp., erected a gazebo along the waterfront. After Bradley declared bankruptcy in 1991, the association took over the gazebo and applied for a permit to build its $10,000 pier, he said.

Handelsman said it was then that the association learned its gazebo violated state critical areas legislation, which restricts construction activities near the bay and its tributaries.

After several weeks of discussion, the community agreed to donate the gazebo to the county, which has since used it to decorate the front of the Arundel Swim Center outside Annapolis.

The community again applied for a pier permit in December. But by that time, the moratorium had been enacted, he said.

Handelsman said that in exchange fot the gazebo, the community has received nothing in return from the county - except a long wait for its pier.

"The county's not helping us in anyway," said Handelsman, a dentist. "The whole thing is so bizarre."

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