Deep Creek Lake Zoning Appeals Bd. Upholds “Mini Marina” Permit

The following is an article in The Republican, August 23, 2012


By a vote of three to one, the Deep Creek Lake Watershed Zoning Board of Appeals last Thursday evening upheld zoning administrator Bill DeVore’s decision to issue a boat rental permit to Bill Meagher, owner of Lakeside Commercial Properties.

Located along Garrett Highway, the shopping center site contains five shops: the Lakeside Creamery, Lakeside Grill, Popcorn Factory, Yoder’s, and Sacred Ground. A personal water craft/boat rental venture is the sixth.

The permit was approved by the Garrett County Department of Planning and Land Development on June 11, and the new business has been dubbed by some as a “mini marina.” The permit now allows Meagher to rent personal water crafts and pontoon boats. Unlike a traditional marina, however, servicing and fueling are not required under a new Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance amendment.

Meagher recently submitted a proposal to the Planning Commission and county commissioners to add a new category of use in the ordinance that would allow “boat rentals, including boat rides and boat tours, as a separate business and not offering any other services associated with a marina.”

The Planning Commission approved the amendment and passed its recommendation on to the commissioners, who held a public hearing on the issue on May 31.

The commissioners’ notice announcing the hearing ran in The Republican on May 17. Information about the category contained the following sentence from the ordinance’s Table of Dimensional Requirements: “The use would require a minimum land area of 10,000 square feet in any districts where it is permitted.” One section of the ordinance states that a minimum of 10,000 square feet is required for the “sale or rental of recreational vehicles.”

The commissioners voted on the amendment on June 5. Commissioners Bob Gatto and Gregan Crawford approved the proposal. Commissioner Jim Raley voted against it, citing reservations about “unanswered uncertainties,” including the lack of support services.

The new category has angered many long-time Deep Creek Lake marina owners, in part, because of safety issues, the lax service requirement, and devaluation of their businesses. Three companies – Phil St. Moritz Properties, Bill’s Marine Service, and Silver Tree Marine – submitted an “interpretive appeal” to the zoning appeals board about the rental permit.

The group has also filed an appeal in Garrett County Circuit Court to determine whether or not the commissioners acted properly under the zoning ordinance and Maryland law in approving the amendment. The case is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 9:30 a.m.

The court petition, in part, states that the petitioners “will continue to suffer additional damages to a higher degree than other property owners in the general area as a result of the use of Meagher’s property . . . and the additional boat traffic safety issues and parking problems generated thereby.”

At the zoning appeals board hearing, the petitioners’ lawyer, Robert Alderson of Skidmore, Alderson & Duncan, said the amendment was “rushed through” and questioned its legality, in particular, the commissioners’ notice. Alderson contended the commissioners approved the amendment based on 10,000 square feet, plus the public was led to believe the issue involved that footage.

He noted the permit that was granted on June 11 referenced a different footage requirement from the ordinance that refers to a shopping center and a minimum allowance of 6,000 square feet per dwelling unit. Alderson indicated the permitting process was the first time the 6,000 figure came up.

He and Director John Nelson, Planning and Land Development, debated the fine points of the complicated issue.

According to the ordinance, the minimum lot size for retail and service businesses located in a shopping center is 6,000 square feet per usage. Meagher’s Lakeside Commercial Properties site is .9 acre/39,204 square feet, according to Nelson. The 6,000 figure was established in 1993 to allow for greater density in shopping centers with shared spaces and amenities, he noted.

The director added that Meagher’s lot falls under the shopping center provisions because it was grandfathered in. To prove his point, he presented several deeds, some dating back to the 1930s. The site, therefore, is permitted to have six separate uses/services (39,204 divided by 6,000), Nelson said.

He added that the amendment resolution that the commissioners signed on June 5 established boat rentals as a “separate service,” and, thus qualifies that type of use in the shopping center regulations. The amendment also established a minimum square-foot requirement for the new category.

Nelson noted the 6,000 figure did not require an amendment. In addition, the 10,000 foot requirement would apply to any boat rental operation that is not part of a shopping plaza.

No one at the hearing spoke in favor of the permit. Meagher attended the event, but did not testify.

Following nearly two hours of testimony, which included statements from marina representatives, zoning appeals board members Bob Browning, Bill Ingram, Steve Gnegy, and Bruce Swift discussed whether or not a mistake was made in the public notice and if they should uphold DeVore’s decision to grant a permit.

Swift voiced concerns about the square-footage issue. He said it bothered him a “little bit” that an interpretation was made based on 10,000 square feet and now the 6,000 figure is being used. He said he was afraid a mistake had been made, but added that it probably would not have affected the amendment outcome.

He and the other members debated the “mistake” issue for about five minutes. Browning indicated that even if a mistake was made, it was not enough of one to deny the permit. He also noted that the Meagher lot was grandfathered in. Gnegy and Ingram expressed similar view points.

Swift made a motion to not uphold the permit. It died for lack of a second.

Ingram made a motion to support the zoning administrator’s decision to grant a boat rental permit to Meagher. Gnegy seconded it. Ingram, Gnegy, and Browning voted in favor of the decision.