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The John and Anita Mastandrea Story

 In 1996, John and Anita Mastandrea of Easton, Maryland constructed a 1,000-foot brick path on property they own along a creek that runs behind their home. The path was built so that their daughter Leah, 19, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair, could enjoy the scenic Chesapeake Bay tributary called Globe Creek.

But in June 1999, the Talbot County Circuit Court ruled that most of the Mastandreas' walkway violated Maryland's Critical Areas Act which forbids almost all construction within 100 feet of the water line. Calling it "one of the most unpleasant cases I've had the misfortune to rule on," Judge William Horne ordered that most of the path be torn up within the year.

In 1995, Richardson Bell filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that the board's denial of his building permit deprived him of any economically viable use of his property. In January 1997, a jury ruled in his favor, finding that the sand dunes regulation had deprived the Bells of rightful property use and awarded the couple $141,517 in compensation.

The Mastandreas' legal battle began in the fall of 1996, when a county zoning inspector noticed the brick walkway that runs parallel to Globe Creek about 25 feet inland from the shoreline. When the inspector discovered that the Mastandreas had not obtained a building permit, they were instructed to secure a variance under the county's Critical Area Program. This program was mandated by Maryland's 1984 Critical Areas Act to specifically control waterfront construction that increases natural water runoff and consumes tidal wetlands that sustain the Chesapeake Bay.

The family applied for a zoning variance from the County Board of Appeals arguing that the brick path was essential because Leah would not be able to negotiate a gravel path in her wheelchair while wood decking, which is permissible under the law, would be too slippery. The Critical Areas Commission filed an objection to the Mastandreas' request, arguing that the law would only permit a brick path from the Mastandreas' home down to their wheelchair accessible dock but not along the shoreline. The board sided with the Mastandreas in a 3 to 2 vote.

The state Critical Areas Commission appealed the decision asking the board to reconsider for technical reasons. The board quickly reaffirmed its decision saying that a "literal enforcement of the law would result in unwarranted hardship to the owner." The state appealed a second time to the county court which ultimately ruled against the Mastandreas. The family plans to appeal this decision. Says their attorney David Thompson, "We will continue to give the Critical Areas Commission the opportunity to exercise the same compassion that Talbot County Board of Appeals showed."
Source: David Thompson