Businessman gets win on plan to make club of St. Helena mansion; Appeals panel overturns hearing officer's decision


It's not quite party time again on little St. Helena Island, but a businessman's plan to turn his mansion there into a private club has won a key victory from the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals.

Overturning a hearing officer's decision, the board ruled, to the dismay of neighbors, that Keith J. Osborne could operate a club on the island in Little Round Bay without meeting on-site parking requirements.

The island is inaccessible to cars, the board noted, and guest parking would be accommodated on a private lot on the mainland.

"We are just appalled," said Kathleen Winter, a resident of the island who has complained about noise from parties at the mansion.

"This whole appeal process, it is amazing that this has happened."

The appeals board ruling is the first victory for Osborne in a yearlong battle with the county over his use of the mansion, a replica of the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood House where he had held parties since 1997.

In May, a county circuit judge barred Osborne from using the mansion for weddings and other affairs, finding that he had used the property for commercial purposes in violation of county zoning laws.

Osborne's application for a variance from zoning requirements, including on-site parking, was denied by Stephen M. LeGendre, the county administrative hearing officer, after 40 people attended a hearing to complain about the request.

The Board of Appeals heard Osborne's appeal in mid-July.

In its six-page decision overturning LeGendre's finding, the board said last week, "While the petitioner could construct the required parking spaces on the property, the placement of parking facilities thereon would serve no purpose."

Parking on the island was not what concerned opponents.

They spoke of noise and trash, and concerns about parking on the mainland, including Annapolis, where they envisioned wedding guests leaving cars parked along crowded downtown streets to ride a chartered boat to the island 45 minutes away.

"The real concern is the establishment of what I would consider a party center in a residential area that is environmentally sensitive," said Lynn Brown, a resident of the island.

To resume holding events at the mansion, Osborne must obtain a use permit from the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement.

Pub Date: 9/24/99

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