Online mapping sites provide a handy tool for drivers and boaters alike.
Now some shoreline residents and marina owners in Baltimore County want county government to put those high-tech tools to a different use: the enforcement against so-called "bootleg marinas."
"It's been always kind of an issue, but the county says they will not respond to anything other than a citizens or business complaint. They will not drive by and see something," said Bob Palmer, a former president of the Marine Trades Association of Baltimore County.
A search for the phrase "bootleg marina" turns up a pair of articles in the Baltimore Sun from the early 1990s.
In 1992, then-Councilman Vince Gardina sponsored a bill to limit residential waterfronts to four to six boats, depending on the length of the lot. Before that, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time, friends would often let other friends use their piers, with or without a charge. Those word-of-mouth arrangements grew out of hand.
Palmer sent a letter late last week on behalf of the group, the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce and three community associations (Holly Neck Conservation Association, Wilson Point and Back River Neck community associations) asking the county to "initiate appropriate efforts" to enforce the law.
"Given the availability of GIS and Satellite Imaging, identifying potential and/or probably sites violating the present boat limitations at residential lots... is not only feasible and practical, but fair and impartial," the letter states.
The letter goes on to suggest that potential violators of the zoning law could be sent a non-threatening letter asking that the property owner seek appropriate zoning or reduce the number of boats docked at their property to avoid the zoning violation.
Right now, Palmer said, the county only enforces the restriction when sent a specific complaint. Though well-meaning, Palmer said that policy leads to neighbors preferring not to rock the boat, so to speak.
"I want to keep somewhat good relations so I won't complain about it. So they don't until it gets too much," Palmer said.
Lionel Van Dommelen, who heads Baltimore County Code Enforcement, said bootleg marinas are not a particularly widespread issue. In meeting with representatives from the MTABC early this summer, he said the association identified 10 possible bootleg marinas. Those were the only bootleg marina complaints the department received in the past year. Only one of the 10 complaints led to an actual violation.
"We've offered to allow a representative of the marine trades to come in and use our computers, our GIS system to pinpoint these potential bootleg marinas and then we would investigate them accordingly," he said.
In many of the instances without an actual violation, Van Dommelen said it's often been discovered that a property's waterfront is long enough to allow more boats, or that the property has a special zoning exception.
However, he said, the department does not have the time and resources to proactively comb through the county's 200 miles of waterfront for possible offenders, which is why it relies on complaints from the association and neighbors.
"We'll investigate every complaint that comes through," he said.
Is this an issue where you live? What should the county and/or marina owners do about it? Tell us in the comments.