Frequently Asked Water Property Questions
What is “impervious surface” vs “pervious surface” and how does it impact the potential for future development of a waterfront property?
Impervious surface is a surface that does not permit water to run through the surface (i.e., a driveway). Pervious is the exact opposite. In a pervious surface, water can freely run through and drain from said surface. Every lot is zoned to allow a certain amount of impervious surface coverage; thus, if a particular lot has reached its maximum impervious amount, future expansion may be limited. This is one of the most complex and important issues in expanding the footprint of an existing property. There have been major changes in the regulations about impervious surface recently. Call us if you have questions; we work with some of the people who helped write the new regulations.
With regards to permitting, which side of a waterfront property is considered the “front?”
The waterfront side of the property is legally considered the front of the property for permitting purposes. This has ramifications on what can be built, and what the setbacks are from the property lines. In order to avoid confusion we always refer to the “waterside” and the “street side.” Give us a call if you want to know setbacks and permitted uses for each zoning classification.
What is “MLW” in water depth?
MLW stands for “mean low water.” It refers to the water depth at an average low tide. However, there are a few other factors to consider. First, the MLW measurement in the multiple list system is usually provided by the seller. Sellers have been known to “over-estimate” the MLW at their docks. Second, water depth in the Annapolis area is frequently controlled more by the wind than the tide, so you can have high tide and low water depth simultaneously if the wind is strong from the north. “Mr. Waterfront” Buyer Experts have a system for establishing “true” normal water depth based on marine growth on the pilings. Ask one of them to explain the system and measure the water the next time you are out looking at homes.
How do I get a pier permit?
There are a number of consultants in the area who will prepare and submit a pier permit for you. I have also shown several clients who wanted to save money how to “do it yourself.” It is a fairly simple procedure once you have all the state and county forms (approval is required from both Anne Arundel County and from the Maryland Department of the Environment) – just time-consuming and tedious.
What is the difference between the critical area zone and the buffer zone?
The Critical Area is the land area 1,000 feet inland from tidal water or tidal wetlands. The buffer zone, on the other hand, has restrictions on construction, clearing, and vegetation management within the minimum 100-foot buffer along the shoreline. Other factors may increase the buffer and extend it beyond the standard 100-foot mark. Give us a call and we can give you more info or help you evaluate the property you are considering.
I measured deep water at the dock. Is there anything else to consider in determining if I can get my boat there?
Absolutely. You need to determine if there are any shallow spots or sandbars between the house you are considering and open water. These most frequently occur at the mouth of creeks and at sharp bends in creeks. You will also need to check for bridges between your dock and open water. The upper South River is very deep but does not permit most sail boats because of the height of the Riva Road bridge. Tell your “Mr. Waterfront” Buyer Expert the height, draft and beam of your vessel and they will make sure that the waterways and slip at the home you are considering can accommodate your boat.
People keep telling me about the “high waterfront taxes.” Is there an additional tax on waterfront that non-waterfront homeowners do not pay?
Property taxes are based on the estimate of a property’s value (comprised of a land portion and an improvement portion and together called “the assessment”) and the tax rate per dollar of assessed value (“the mil rate”). Consequently, a waterfront and a non-waterfront property with the same assessment would both pay the same real estate taxes in Anne Arundel County. I am not aware of any additional “waterfront tax,” although a waterfront property probably has a higher assessment for land than non-waterfront.
Is mold more likely to be a problem in waterfront homes than in homes away from the water?
Mold requires a moisture source to grow – usually a pipe leak, ground water intrusion, or a crack in the building envelope such as around windows or flashing. The presence of water in the nearby river should not increase the likelihood of mold in a well-built house. Of course, if a house is in a flood zone or floods during storms this would be a serious concern. Check with your “Mr. Waterfront” Buyer Expert to find out if a home has a history of flooding or if there is evidence of mold from other causes.
I keep hearing the term “riparian rights.” What does this mean?
Riparian rights refer to a homeowner’s right to build a structure from their property (usually a dock) into the water. However, just as on land, you must get the proper permits and comply with applicable laws in order to build. This means that not all properties with Riparian Rights will actually be able to get a permit for a dock. Other factors to consider include the setback from the property line extensions, the location of neighboring docks, and the location of the channel in the waterway. When looking at a property where the buyer would like to construct a pier, I evaluate all these items and then set up a meeting with the home buyer and the County Permit Office to confirm what we believe to be accurate.
Can the channel or slip at the pier be dredged to achieve deep water access?
Maybe. With the exception of maintenance dredging of existing channels and basins that have been previously dredged, dredging of shallow water habitats in areas of less than three feet at mean low water is not permitted unless approved by the appropriate state and federal agencies. We have worked with a number of homeowners to get deeper water permits and would be happy to assist you.
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