Big home lacks only one thing: permits


Officially, Daryl Wagner's huge house - built on a small wooded island in the Magothy River - did not exist until this spring.

Pasadena boaters knew better. Since the house went up a few years ago, they routinely passed Little Island, a 1.8-acre speck near Pasadena, and gawked at the sparkling white home with its replica lighthouse, pool and waterfront gazebo.

But the 3,500-square-foot house did not exist on paper because Wagner, a Millersville home builder, never applied for the construction or environmental permits required for such a project. Officials say he is the second Anne Arundel County homeowner- Baltimore car dealer Scott Donahoo is the other - to recently build a home without the necessary approvals, which they call highly unusual.

County officials have told Wagner, who lives in the house, to go through the permit process retroactively or face possible fines or demolition. The Army Corps of Engineers is also pressuring the builder to remove a 71-foot gravel road he built on coastal wetlands to create a boat launch to the island.

"He will not be allowed to keep anything he could not have had from the beginning," said Assistant County Attorney Katy Byrne, who is investigating the case.

The county could fine Wagner or ask a judge to order parts of his house demolished. The Army Corps could also fine him for filling in the wetlands near Grays Point.

Wagner declined comment through his attorney, Robert Fuoco. But Fuoco said his client is pursuing permits and has received no indication from county officials that he will be fined or charged with criminal wrongdoing.

"I think right now, people are just speculating," Fuoco said.

When asked whether his client deliberately built the house without permission, Fuoco said he could not go into detail but added, "There are two sides to every story." He said Wagner has been living in the house for three to four years.

Paul Spadaro, the president of the Magothy River Association, a nonprofit group that monitors the health of the waterway, said his group is outraged.

"Wagner knew full well what the laws were, and he knew he could not build that ... house," Spadaro said. "I'm in no mood to forgive and forget."

Spadaro said he hopes county officials force Wagner to meet permit standards and obey critical-area laws designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

"If we're going to address water-quality issues, we have to address land-use issues," Spadaro said. "Otherwise, what's the point of even having critical-area laws?"

The case is similar to the county's dispute with Donahoo, who built a home for his mother in Pasadena without obtaining permits. The county has asked a Circuit Court judge to order that home be demolished, and the county Board of Appeals held meetings on the matter last week.

Such large-scale flouting of building laws is uncommon, Byrne said.

"We get a lot of cases of people building piers and decks without permits," she said. "But between Donahoo and Mr. Wagner, these are two very unusual cases that just happened to come up at the same time."

Byrne said most people don't have enough money to risk building homes without permits.

Betty Dixon, the county's land-use coordinator, said she does not see the Wagner and Donahoo cases as part of a trend toward lawlessness.

"I think if anything, people are more aware of the limits on what they can do," Dixon said. "I think these are probably two isolated, peculiar instances."

Dixon, a 15-year veteran, said she has seen the county demolish home additions, piers and garages that were built without permits. But she said that until this year, she had never seen people build whole houses without permits.

Planning and environmental officials from other parts of the state agreed that the cases are unusual.

Two years ago, a state commission criticized the county for not doing enough to protect the shore from development. County Executive Janet S. Owens subsequently tapped a staff member to head the critical-area enforcement division, began posting violations on the county's Web site and promised to use a police helicopter to make regular checks.

Dixon said she wished Wagner had been caught before the house was finished but said the land-use department does not have the staff to comb the county for potential violations. "We're in a position where we have to rely on complaints to discover this type of thing," she said.

Little Island's history is linked to that of its larger Magothy River neighbor, Dobbins Island. The Dobbin family owned both, maintaining a small summer cottage on Little Island while allowing area boaters to use the larger, uninhabited island as a camping spot.

Jim and Edward Wilson bought both properties in the 1990s. They sold Little Island to Wagner in 2000 and Dobbins Island to Glen Burnie businessman David L. Clickner Sr., who plans to build a 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot home there.

The Magothy River Association opposes that project as well.

Spadaro said he and fellow neighbors watched Wagner build the house over one winter, using a huge amphibious vehicle with tires fit for a monster truck. "He did it with such velocity that I don't think people knew what to think," Spadaro said.

County officials said they never noticed the house going up and never received complaints from those boaters or shore residents who did.

Spadaro said he and others did not complain because they were used to seeing a house on the island and were more focused on trying to prevent development at Dobbins Island.

County inspectors happened to see the house this year while investigating a complaint at a nearby property. They're still unsure exactly when it was built.

Edward Wilson, who sold the property to Wagner, said he was surprised to hear that the house had been built without permits.

"I've never heard of anyone building that much of anything without a permit," he said. "But he built a beautiful house. It'd be a shame if he had to tear any of it down."

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