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Ruling Paves Way for Dobbins Island Development

July 16, 2008

By PAMELA WOOD Staff Writer

Despite their long history of working to save the Magothy River, two environmental groups do not have enough interest in the river to block the building of a home on Dobbins Island, a judge ruled yesterday.

Rather, Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Pamela L. North ruled the Magothy River Association and Chesapeake Bay Foundation do not have standing to prevent construction on the island, even though the groups have donated money and man-hours over the years to preserve the river.

The result of the ruling is the environmental groups have been kicked out of a zoning case over building a home on the island.

For island owners David and Diana Clickner, the ruling means they can now apply for permits to build a home on Dobbins Island.

For the environmental groups, it’s yet another defeat in their attempt to keep the iconic island undeveloped.

And it’s not likely the last confrontation between the two sides.

“It’s another step,” Mr. Clickner said.

Dobbins Island is a 7-acre wooded spit of land in the Magothy. For generations, it has been a popular hangout for boaters, who favor the sandy beach and calm waters on the north side of the island.

The Clickners, who bought the island from private owners in 2004, have been trying to get special approvals to build a home there.

The special approvals are needed because the island is entirely within the Critical Area, the swath of land along the waterfront where stricter regulations apply. The island also has steep slopes, which can only be disturbed under certain circumstances.

The Clickners won approval from a county hearing officer in late 2006, and the environmental groups quickly appealed to the county Board of Appeals.

The Clickners’ lawyer, Harry C. Blumenthal, argued to the board that the environmental groups didn’t meet the legal definition for “standing.” Essentially, he said that since the groups didn’t own nearby property or have any other unique interest, they couldn’t legally file the appeal.

The Board of Appeals sided with Mr. Blumenthal with a 4-3 decision in 2007, effectively ending the appeal. The environmental groups turned to the courts, but were shot down again yesterday.

During oral arguments in court, lawyers for the two sides debated detailed points about case law and what the standard is for being allowed to make an appeal at the county level.

Lawyers for the bay foundation and the river group said the dollars and man hours they’ve spent restoring the river made them “especially aggrieved” by development on the island. Plus, they noted they have members near the island who oppose building a house there.

“We do have the right to represent the interests of our members and that’s what we were doing,” said Amy McDonnell, the lawyer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Ann M. Fligsten, the lawyer for the Magothy River Association, said the Board of Appeals’ definition of legal “standing” was “extremely rigid.”

But the Clickners’ lawyer, Mr. Blumenthal, said that while commendable, the environmentalists’ work on the river doesn’t earn them any special legal rights.

While Judge North found flaws in the Board of Appeals opinion, she ultimately ruled that it was valid.

“I felt, personally, the board could have gone into more detail on what their reasoning was,” Judge North said.

But nevertheless, board members had the right to make their decision.

“I can’t say the opinion of the board was incorrect,” she said.

The Clickners now can move forward with developing their island, though they fully expect more legal challenges. The ruling does, however, curtail at least this one line of opposition.

“They have said they’re bound and determined to stop development on the island,” Mr. Blumenthal said of the environmentalists.

Already, the Magothy River Association has a pending lawsuit – filed last week – that asks the courts to declare that the public should be allowed to have access to the island because they’ve done so for so many years.

The river group also is trying to drum up money to buy the island from the Clickners so it can be preserved. And they’ll explore other tactics, as well as appeal yesterday’s ruling.

“We’re definitely going to step it up,” said association President Paul Spadaro of Severna Park. {Corrections:} {Status:}

RIVER GROUP CAN’T FIGHT ZONING APPROVAL

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