Nighttime Inspection Troubles Campground
The code inspector for the St. Mary's County Department of Land Use and Growth Management and at least one sheriff's deputy visited a campground early Sunday (Feb. 27) to document a violation, The Enterprise, Lexington Park, Md., reported.
Two couples had come to Buzz's Marina in Ridge on Saturday from out of town to inspect damage inflicted by high winds the day before, Christy Henderson, co-owner of the marina, told the county commissioners on Tuesday (March 1). They decided to stay the night.
"At 1:19 a.m. Sunday morning they were awakened abruptly by police officers banging on their doors asking if they had any guns or weapons," she said.
Zoning code official Adam Knight was there to document a violation, Derick Berlage, director of land use and growth management, said Wednesday, and Knight was accompanied by police for security.
Henderson said Knight did not come by her house that morning to notify the owners about the inspection.
Camping had been ruled out on the property by the board of appeals in December.
The Hendersons bought the marina in 2005 and have said camping has been going on there since before the zoning ordinance began in 1974, which they say should grandfather in the use.
The zoning ordinance specifies that campgrounds are only permitted by conditional use approval from the board of appeals, Berlage said.
The Hendersons are appealing the board of appeals' decision to the circuit court. Christy Henderson said she believes they have the right to continue the campground use during the appeal.
"I'm outraged more than I can convey" by the nighttime visit, she told the county commissioners this week.
Commissioner Larry Jarboe called the inspection "egregious."
Berlage said "an inspection did occur. The inspection determined there were occupied campers on the site. We regret the fact that it occurred that late. I understand why the Hendersons are upset."
Berlage said he knew there was going to be an inspection, but not at what time. The department previously responded to neighbor complaints about camping on weekdays, but didn't find anyone.
The neighbors said campers were coming in on weekends and evenings, Berlage said. A neighbor called Saturday evening and said campers had arrived, he said.
"We had an obligation, a legal requirement to respond to legal complaints, but going forward, we should be more respectful," he said.
There is now a new policy that there will be no inspections made after dark for any matter, he said.
But as far as camping goes at Buzz's Marina, "Since December, the law of the land has been a campground is not legal because of the board of appeals' decision. We're following the board of appeals' decision," he said.
No citation has yet been issued to the Hendersons, Berlage said.
"Our goal is to obtain compliance with the law," he said.
In general, the county commissioners would like to loosen restrictions on campgrounds in St. Mary's County. It's a low-impact use that's good for tourism, Berlage said.
"Hopefully some good things will come out of this unhappy episode," he said.
Berlage met with the Hendersons and their attorney Wednesday afternoon.