Stop ignoring the law and bulldoze this house, on Little Island in the Magothy River. Flatten it, ASAP. Demolish the cheesy faux lighthouse. Uproot the fake palm trees. Replace the manicured lawn and wall of rocks with the natural trees and grasses that filtered the water before developer Daryl Wagner built this monstrosity without permits almost a decade ago.
If he steps outside to ask you why you're swinging a wrecking ball at his palace, tell him: For the sake of peace, justice and the Chesapeake Bay. His mansion is an insult to the basic concept of legal protections for the Bay.
Wealthy landowners like Wagner should not be allowed to simply pay small fines as a cost of doing business, but then continue to live in the homes they build in blatant violation of Maryland's Critical Areas laws, which are designed to protect waterfront zones from blacktop and chainsaws.
Yes, Wagner was fined $40,000 for not following the rules. But in cases like these, builders like Wagner should pay a more serious price than just fines: They should lose the fruit of their arrogance. They should lose the homes they build illegally.
The legal war over Wagner's castle has been going on for years, since Anne Arundel County sued Wagner in 2004. Wagner belatedly sought variances for his construction. The country granted the variances after the fact and ruled that Wagner was entitled to keep his home.
The county never fined Wagner a dime. But the Maryland Department of the Environment and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January fined Wagner $40,000 for wetlands violations on the island, as part of a consent agreement.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Magothy River Association challenged the county's decision to grant Wagner's variances, arguing that the integrity of the Critical Areas laws must be respected. That case, seeking demolition of the home, is still in court.
The Maryland General Assembly in 2008 passed a law intended to prevent any Wagner-like antics by builders in the future. The law says anyone caught violating Critical Areas laws must tear down their structures or fix the damage before they can seek a variance. The Maryland Critical Areas Commission sued Wagner under this law.
But then last week, the Court of Appeals dismissed this lawsuit, saying the new law cannot be applied retroactively to Wagner.
In an Annapolis Capital article about last week's legal action, Anne Arundel County officials gave the impression that the county is actively pursuing legal action to level the house. But this is misleading. In fact, the county is supporting Wagner's attempts to win construction variances, which would undermine attempts by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and our allies to demolish his home.
The county should get out of the way and let the bulldozers of justice roll.
Think about it. Why is it that Maryland is cracking down hard on people of humble income -- such as oystermen -- who violate natural resources laws, while allowing well-heeled builders who break the rules to keep their paychecks and homes?
I'm not saying that the government should not crack down on oyster poachers. It should, so that they don't steal from honest watermen and undermine Bay restoration efforts. But the government should aim a proportionate amount of enforcement zeal at the gents standing on their white porches high above the docks, looking down at the guys in the workboats.
Fair is fair. You violate an oyster sanctuary, you lose not only your ill-gotten oysters but also your oystering license. You build a mansion in violation of Critical Areas laws, you should lose your license to build... and your mansion.
Let the wrecking ball fly.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation