South County marina owner E. Steuart Chaney has decided to end a rift with the Rose Haven residents who objected to his plan to build on waterfront property -- seeking to sell the land instead to a trust that will keep it as open space.
Mr. Chaney is taking the action despite being cleared by the Army Corps of Engineers of allegations made by the residents that he illegally filled in wetlands to create buildable lots at the site.
Mr. Chaney said he has approached the Trust for Public Lands, a nonprofit organization dedicated to acquiring land for open space, to find a buyer.
"I'm willing to take a financial hit on it and sell it for less than its fair market value if I can sell it for open space, because that's one of my desires," he said.
The dispute became an issue during his wife's successful Democratic primary campaign for the 7th District County Council seat. His wife -- school board member Dorothy Dixon Chaney -- faces Republican John Klocko III in the Nov. 8 general election.
Mr. Chaney, owner and operator of Herrington Harbour Marina in Rose Haven and Herrington Harbour North in Tracys Landing, said the allegation especially galled him because he considers himself an environmental innovator in the marine industry.
He pointed as an example to his low-profile bulkhead, which he built on a slope and planted with tidal marsh grass, instead of nTC using the vertical wall of wood used in most other marinas. He designed the grounds of the marina with an eye toward storm water management that reduces and controls runoff into the bay.
"Nobody came out here and told us we had to do this. We did it by ourselves," said Mr. Chaney, who bought Herrington Harbour 17 years ago. "My whole history in the marina business is doing things in an environmentally sensitive manner when I wasn't required to do so."
A group of residents made the allegations of filling wetlands as part of their challenge to Mr. Chaney's application for a variance so he could build three houses on the property. The variance was necessary because a storm water management device extended inside the 100-foot Critical Areas buffer.
According to documentation filed with the county's Board of Appeals, the residents accused Mr. Chaney of clandestinely filling the lots with dirt in 1987. They contend that in 1988, the Corps of Engineers issued an order to Mr. Chaney to restore the lots to wetlands, although no documentation of that order has ever been found.
Mr. Chaney said that part of the lots were filled in 1987, but the dirt came from an Anne Arundel County building project, the work was legal and he has the grading permit to prove it. The work was done on land that had been determined by the Corps of Engineers in 1984 not to be wetlands under its protection.
After investigating the Rose Haven residents' allegations, the Corps of Engineers concluded that the wetlands on the property that are under its jurisdiction were filled by a natural process, when the land was covered by water at high tide and silt in the water settled on the property.
The corps also concluded that the grading done beyond the wetlands violated no law.
"The 1987 grading work conducted landward of the line may have involved a minor fill in an area that might qualify as jurisdictional wetlands under today's standards," wrote Thaddeus J. Rugiel, chief of the corps' enforcement section. "However, since this grading was conducted in reasonable reliance on our 1984 jurisdictional line, we have determined that, based on these specific circumstances, this work does not constitute a violation of the laws we administer."
Mr. Chaney's opponents said they aren't willing to concede that no violation took place, but they are pleased with the result that may turn the land into a park.
"I think it became clear to Steuart that he has a lot of citizen opposition to what he's trying to do," said Pat Piper, a Rose Haven resident whose house will now retain its water view. "This is a perfect compromise."
Mr. Chaney said he understood the opposition and is happy to have the matter resolved.
"The fact that we've been through what we've been through may end up to be more positive than if they hadn't opposed it at all."