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State approves revised wetlands fees for Inner Harbor restaurants

ANNAPOLIS — Phillips Seafood and Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor got state approval Wednesday to modify their outdoor dining areas more than a year after they first took their request to the Board of Public Works.

3a Power Plant WetlandsMF13_webThe restaurants both sought wetlands licenses from the state panel in June 2012 to upgrade their dining piers, which float above harbor waters in front of the Power Plant Live development along Pratt Street.

At the same time, another Power Plant restaurant, Dick’s Last Resort, settled the amount — with board approval — it owed the state for building a dining pier above the harbor.

When the state sent the three restaurants a bill that exceeded $1.5 million, all three withdrew their applications, setting off a year’s worth of negotiations with the restaurants’ landlord.

“It was negotiated with the Cordish Cos.,” said Doldon W. Moore Jr., the Board of Public Works’ wetlands administrator. “We went back and forth for a few months.”

The revised license fees lowered the proposed Phillips bill from $779,275 to a one-time, $20,000 fee plus annual payments of $2,000 and gave Hard Rock a one-time, $20,000 bill, down from a proposed $378,000. Dick’s Last Resort is required now to pay $8,355 a year for its dining deck compared with the $584,850 proposed last year.

The original fee — $175 per square foot — was based on the higher of two separate property assessments submitted to the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Department of General Services approved the appraisal as fair-market value. The lower assessment was $110 per square foot.

Though it was originally thought the state had to charge the restaurants the assessed value, the Office of the Maryland Attorney General opined that the Board of Public Works had the authority to waive or otherwise alter the restaurants’ fee.

The state panel — composed of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — did not formally discuss the licenses last year because they were withdrawn just before the board met. But Franchot criticized MDE for asking for so much money from the businesses, saying that the fee got in the way of economic growth and job creation.

Franchot on Wednesday praised Moore, the board’s wetlands administrator, for revising the original “exorbitant” price tag.

“What you did today is going to permit that economic investment and expansion to move forward,” Franchot said.