Garrett marinas case heads back to court

Deep Creek Lake businesses file appeal

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The mini-marinas case will go back to Garrett County Circuit Court with a hearing scheduled for March 29. Two cases, a declaratory judgment and an administrative agency appeal were consolidated during a hearing Dec. 10.

Also during the recent hearing, a judicial review of the Garrett County Board of Commissioners decision to amend text in the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance was dismissed.

St. Moritz Properties LLC, Bill’s Marine Service Inc. and Silver Tree Marine LLC are suing the defendants of the Garrett County Board of Zoning Appeals, the commissioners, Lakeside Commercial Properties LLC and William Meagher, owner of the Lakeside Creamery. The declaratory judgment will terminate the controversy between the businesses, according to the complaint document for declaratory judgment.

Each of the businesses owns and operates a marina in accordance with the ordinance, which requires a minimum lot of two acres for both a marina and a boat launch, according to the document. The minimum land area requirements in the ordinance are 10,000 square feet, but Meagher’s property is only 9,204 square feet, according to the document.

St. Moritz Properties LLC, Bill’s Marine Service Inc. and Silver Tree Marine LLC have also filed an interpretive appeal in opposition of the Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision in June to grant Meagher’s request for a boat rental permit.

The appeal states that, “the granting of the permit affects spot zoning and thereby denies equal protection and due process to other owners of property in the neighborhood.” The appeal also states that “granting of the permit will result in damage to the fair-market value of the other properties in the neighborhood.”

During the December hearing, the motion to dismiss the judicial review was based on the fact that the text amendment was not considered spot zoning, applying to just one small area of land. It was instead determined to be comprehensive zoning, applying to all land.

“The change in the text ordinance applies to every parcel at the lake, not just one parcel,” County Attorney Gorman Getty III said during the December hearing. “This is not spot zoning.”

Meagher planned to offer 12 personal water crafts and four pontoon boats as rentals as well as offer guided tours. He would use local marinas for services.

“We didn’t want to do sales. We didn’t want to do repairs. We didn’t want to do a lot of the things that the marina does,” said Mea-gher during the public hearing. “The only thing we wanted to do was a boat rental business.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

Adventure Sports Center expected to break even

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — Garrett County’s Adventure Sports Center International will break even for the year, according to Scott Weeks, county assistant director of financial services, and the county was able to save some money.

As of Dec. 31, Weeks is projecting a revenue of about $772,000 and expenses of $745,000 with a net income of roughly $28,000. For 2011, ASCI was at a net loss of about $151,000 — revenue was about $784,000 and expenses were $935,000.

The county was able to see the increase in net income because of reductions, according to Weeks.

“We had a decrease in our salary and fringes of $105,000,” said Weeks during the county commission meeting Tuesday. “We reduced some of the staffing there. We have been able to stabilize the operations and see a positive cash flow in the organization.”

The utilities cost for ASCI decreased by $40,000, of which $25,000 was for electric. Legal and professionals services as well as repair and maintenance were decreased by $19,000, according to Weeks.

The county agreed to purchase ASCI’s debt for $600,000 in March; the debt was $3.2 million and had about $180,00 in accrued interest, according to Weeks. All of ASCI’s payables flow through the county and they operate under the county’s internal control structure now, said Weeks.

“We got all that for $600,000,” said Weeks. “Before we purchased their debt, they were ready to come back to us and say, ‘We need $50,000.’ As of today, ASCI will owe the taxpayers $692,000.”

The commissioners agreed to pay $100,000 toward the ASCI debt with the money garnered from an increase in the hotel tax rate. At a meeting in May, commissioners voted to increase the hotel tax rate from 5 percent to 6 percent effective July 1. That increase generated roughly $300,000, according to Weeks.

“We are making progress on getting paid back,” said Weeks. “We have positive cash flow.”

An accounting change had to be made because ASCI was on a calendar year and the county operates on a fiscal year from July through June 30.

“So we made an accounting change and switched them (ASCI) over to a June 30 fiscal year,” said Weeks. “When I give a comparison, I have a June 30 audited figure that auditors are finalizing this week. The last thing I have for ASCI is December 31, 2011, audited financials. What I’m doing today, I took January and am projecting out where we are going to finish in December.”

In 2009, ASCI requested a $300,000 line of credit from the commissioners because it was unable to make cash flow, according to Weeks.

“They took out $50,000 in June of 2009,” said Weeks. “Then in February 26, 2010, they took out another $100,000. It was an interest-free loan and they were paying it back over a 10-year period.”

ASCI did make a $50,000 payment back to the county and in January 2012 asked the commissioners for another $50,000.

This year, ASCI served 10,436 rafters and last year served 10,431, according to Michael Logsdon, acting director of ASCI. ASCI employed 93 people in 2012, most of whom were guide staff comprised of high school and college students.

Since 2007, ASCI has employed 600 seasonal employees and served more than 66,7000 guests.

“Staffing is a concern because that’s a big expense item,” said Logsdon. “We have been really trying to make sure that we are staffed properly and not overly staffed or underly staffed.”

Total payroll was $300,000 for calendar year 2012, according to Weeks.

ASCI and Garrett College staff are working to formulate a three-year strategic plan from 2013 to 2015. The plan will address critical areas such as education, ASCI facilities, business growth, strategic alliances, community service, business sustainability  and conservation of resources, according to Logsdon.

“We have to enhance what we do up here; it’s sort of been a one-trick pony,” said Logsdon, who noted that  plans include hydrodynamic learning stations and a giant swing.

People are mostly coming into the area for other reasons, according to Logsdon.

“They probably didn’t come here just to take a two-hour rafting trip,” said Logsdon. “We are trying to figure out where they are coming from and we want to diversify the product line so they have something to do at ASCI besides ride the raft.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

Judge dismisses Garrett marina complaint

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — An attempt to have a Garrett County marina decision overturned was dismissed Monday by Circuit Court Judge Jim Sherbin.

Sherbin granted a request by County Attorney Gorman Getty III to dismiss the action. St. Moitz Properties LLC, Bill’s Marine Service Inc. and Silver Tree Marine LLC had sought a judicial review of the county’s decision to amend text in the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance.

The ammendment to the zoning ordinance allows Bill Meagher, owner of the Lakeside Creamery, to create a mini-marina for boat rentals, according to attorney Greg Skidmore of  Skidmore, Alderson and Duncan of Oakland, who represented the marinas.

The decision whether or not to grant the motion to dismiss came down to whether or not the text amendment was considered spot zoning, applying to just one small area of land  or comprehensive zoning, applying all land.

Both Sherbin and Getty agreed that the amendment pertained to comprehensive zoning.

“The change in the text ordinance applies to every parcel at the lake, not just one parcel,” said Getty. “This is not spot zoning.”

The commissioners followed the correct procedures in making the text amendment to the ordinance, by providing a study, holding a public hearing, soliciting public comment and by obtaining a recommendation from the planning commission, according to Sherbin.

“It would be different if the commissioners made this decision during a private meeting,” said Sherbin.

Skidmore argued that the amendment to the ordinance pertained to spot zoning and in particular Meagher’s property.

Meagher petitioned the Deep Creek Watershed Board of Zoning Appeals for a variance to the ordinance and then, about a month later, before a conclusion could be reached, withdrew his petition, according to Skidmore.

Meagher then took his request to the commissioners and a public hearing was held and the public comment period was extended.

During a June 5 meeting, upon the suggestion of the planning commission, county commissioners approved the text amendment to the ordinance to add a new category for boat rentals as a separate service that would not offer any of the other services associated with a marina.

Commissioners Gregan Crawford and Robert Gatto voted in favor of the amendment, with chairman Jim Raley opposing it.

During a May public hearing, Raley said he had concerns about Meagher’s decision not to offer services on-site.

Sherbin also granted Skidmore’s request to consolidate two separate appeals pertaining to the mini-marina.

St. Moritz Properties LLC, Bill’s Marine Service Inc. and Silver Tree Marine LLC  have also filed a interpretive appeal in opposition of the zoning administration’s decision in June to grant Meagher’s request for a boat rental permit.

Meagher planned to offer 12 personal water crafts and four pontoon boats as rentals as well as offer guided tours. He would use local marinas for services.

“We didn’t want to do sales. We didn’t want to do repairs. We didn’t want to do a lot of the things that the marina does,” said Meagher during the public hearing. “The only thing we wanted to do was a boat rental business.”

The aforementioned businesses filed the petition because they felt like they have been “specially and adversely affected” by the commissioners’ decision, according to the petition.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

Wisp Ski Resort Will Soon Have New Owners

By: Lynn Lawson
Updated: December 10, 2012

GARRETT COUNTY, MD – It looks like Maryland’s only ski resort could soon have a new owner.

Last week a bankruptcy court judge approved the sale of Wisp in Garrett County to EPT Ski Properties, a unit of EPR Properties based out of Kansas City, for $23.5 million.

The resort filed for bankruptcy last year after defaulting on nearly $30 million in loans used to build a golf course community.

A judge also approved the sale of that golf course and other land to National Land Partners for $6.1 million.

Official closing dates of the sales are expected sometime this month.

More here.

Talk at Garrett prelegislative meeting focuses on lake

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — A majority of requests and discussion during the annual prelegislative meeting on Saturday  at Garrett College centered around issues at Deep Creek Lake.

Resident Ralph Schmidt asked why the state of Maryland wasn’t allocating funds to preserve the lake.

The Board of Garrett County Commissioners and the Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board are looking into the issue of funds to preserve the lake, said Delegate Wendell Beitzel. Beitzel said the commission has provided $95,000 for Phase II of the sediment plan.

“I  think it’s pretty clear they (commissioners) are hearing what people are saying and are concerned about the future of Deep Creek Lake,” said Beitzel, who noted that he and Edwards would continue to work with the commissioners and the Department of Natural Resources to address lake issues.

Sen. George Edwards said the Waterway Improvement Fund could be utilized for certain things at the lake.

“The department will tell you that they don’t have much money in there but they will get several millions of dollars,” said Edwards. “They are the ones that set the priority on where that money is spent.”

The fund provides money for dredging channels that are critical to heavy commercial boat traffic, of which there is none in the lake, said Barbara Beelar, executive director of Friends of Deep Creek Lake. Beelar questioned whether the fund excluded funding for the lake and suggested looking into obtaining other watershed restoration funds.

“I sort of sense it might,” said Beelar. “If in fact Deep Creek Lake is excluded, then we would rely on you for the best avenue,” said Beelar, who suggested an ammendment or something similar to the flush tax. “We really need you to help put Deep Creek Lake back on the agenda.”

Dock fees that are collected from property owners go to the Department of Natural Resources, which are primarly used for to manage the recreational needs of the lake, according to Beitzel.

“Garrett County gets 25 percent of those dock fees. That was part of the deal when the county approved the purchase of Deep Creek Lake,” said Beitzel. “Unfortunately, Gov. (Martin) O’Malley’s budget has been seeking to take those fees away from the county. We have been fighting vigorously and fortunately we were able to hold those fees.”

Beitzel said dock fees could be raised.

“Most of the dock fees that we collect go to maintain the office of Deep Creek Lake management at the state park,” he said. “There is indication that the fees that are currently being paid are not adequate to continue to pay the total expense of that office and there has been some discussion of a need to raise those fees in the future.”

The Friends of Deep Creek Lake is circulating a petition with more than 1,300 signatures asking the state to provide funds for the preservation of the lake and surrounding watershed, according to Beelar.

“We anticipate by the opening of the General Assembly (in January) we may have 2,000,” said Beelar. “Over 35 percent of those signatures are from Garrett County residents. It isn’t just lake people wanting money.”

Bob Hoffman, representing the Deep Creek Lake Property Owner’s Association requested three changes to legislative statutes pertaining to the Policy and Review Board. Hoffman suggested that the Maryland Department of Environment have a seat on board, that the board have the authority to advise the secretary of MDE on lake related matters and noted that it should be codified in the statute that the DNR provides administrative assistance to the board. Beitzel suggested that Hoffman put those issues in writing. Edwards introduced the previous legislation that put the board in place to ensure local control of the lake and to provide a check and balance, said Beitzel. Both Edwards and Beitzel sit on the board.

Beitzel suggested that the residents should travel to Annapolis to attend committee meetings to voice their concerns or to show their support of any of bills that will be addressed during the legislative session.

“Quite frankly, I think a lot of issues that we are dealing with here in the county with funding for Deep Creek Lake, with drilling and with anything we deal with legislation we are really outgunned,” said Beitzel. “We do appreciate the support when people come down.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

More here.

Thayerville water project progressing

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — Work on water storage tanks for the $8.22 million Thayerville water system is 99 percent complete, according to Linda Lindsey, director of the Garrett County department of public utilities.

The distribution system is 50 percent complete and Frank Arnold Contractors has completed 45 percent of the water treatment plant/booster station, Lindsey reported during the county commission meeting Tuesday.

The project is separated into three construction contracts — the distribution system (contract 1), the water storage tanks (contract 2) and the water treatment plant/booster station (contract 2A).

Dutchland Inc. has constructed two concrete water tanks, a 1,013,150-gallon tank and a 156,000-gallon tank, according to Lindsey.

“They are both basically complete. The contractor just needs to install the air breaks on both tank overflows,” said Lindsey. “We will do a final inspection and that portion of the project will be complete.”

Piping for the distribution system has been installed in the Quarry, Fox Den, Leo Friend roads and the Overlook development areas, according to Lindsey.

“The contractor (Excavating Associates) is currently completing the main line and service laterals in the Mountain Side development,” said Lindsey. “They are planning on continuing to work as long as weather permits. The contractor anticipates working on the Glendale Road and U.S. Route 219 south segments after the winter shutdown. Basically, those areas require the availability of paving and we can’t work within the state roadway when there is any chance of a snow emergency.”

The distribution system project will likely be started back up in early April, according to Lindsey.

Dutchland has set a chlorine contact tank in the water treatment plant and the pipe work has been started.

“They are hoping to get block foundation up this week while the weather permits,” said Lindsey.

In 2009, the county commissioners approved the Thayerville water project and in 2010 entered into an agreement with RK&K Engineering for the work. The project was pending on 33 easements that were required from private property owners.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

More here.