State files suit demanding demolition of island house

Home on Little Dobbins Island was built without permits

By LIAM FARRELL, The Capital
Published September 25, 2008

Joshua McKerrow - Capital file photo
The state is suing over the controversial house built on Little Dobbins Island by Daryl Wagner. The extravagant property has been a lightening rod for frustration over the enforcement of environmental laws.

The state's Critical Area Commission filed a lawsuit this morning demanding the demolition of an opulent home built without permits on Little Dobbins Island in the Magothy River.

The complaint against DCW Dutchship Island LLC and Daryl Wagner filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court is the first under a law passed in the latest General Assembly session.

Though the law has been in effect for less than three months, state officials said it applies to unresolved land-use cases.

Controversy over the construction on Little Dobbins, which put 6,000 feet of new impervious surface in the Critical Area, including an almost 3,000-square-foot home with a gazebo, swimming pool and replica lighthouse, has become a rallying cry in the county for tougher building regulations.

"Restoration of this site is long overdue," said Margaret McHale, the commission's chairman. "There are consequences when there is resource damage and we all feel those consequences."

Mr. Wagner, an Annapolis builder, constructed the home on the 2-acre island prior to obtaining any permits, a situation discovered by the county in November 2004.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals allowed him to keep much of the house. The state appealed that decision, but a ruling still is pending in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Now, state officials are contending the new law would void the Board of Appeals decision because the defendants "have failed to prepare and implement a restoration and mitigation plan to abate unlawful construction," according to the state's filing.

State officials also have not withdrawn the circuit court appeal.

"Only after the restoration and mitigation have been completed may the defendants avail themselves of the County's variance process," the filing says. "This Court must nowdirect the defendants to cure their unlawful deeds and restore Little Dobbins Island to its prior condition."

Essentially, the variances were granted "out of place under the new law," said Ren Serey, the executive director of the Critical Area Commission.

"The real matter here is that there is a long-term violation that hasn't been properly addressed," he said.

Robert Fuoco, Mr. Wagner's lawyer, could not be reached for comment this morning.

County Executive John R. Leopold has repeatedly called the Little Dobbins Island case "a black eye" for Anne Arundel County.

Tougher enforcement of environmental rules has been a priority of his administration, which hired 11 new inspectors and pushed several pieces of legislation aimed at tightening penalties.

Although declining to speak directly on a lawsuit that does not involve the county, Mr. Leopold this morning said he is in favor of any outcome that will result in strong enforcement of environmental laws.

"It is very clear there are no sacred cows at the trough," he said.

The new law's provisions will be pivotal in supporting those efforts, Ms. McHale said.

"This law is going to make it easier for the county executive and his staff to follow through on their zero-tolerance (policy)," she said.

Staff Writer Erin Cox contributed to this report.

(Revised August 2008)