As chairman of the Original Northwood Association's covenant committee, a group charged with enforcing rules on property standards in his Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, Robert T. Kean sometimes finds himself doing things that make him uncomfortable.
Take, for example, the Sunday in August when he walked onto the front yard of Albert and Janet Cyford with a pair of bolt cutters and severed two "For Sale" signs the Cyfords' real estate agent had posted.
Mr. Kean says he didn't want to cut down the signs, but the neighborhood covenant doesn't allow signs of any kind on property in Northwood. He had to cut them down, he said, after Mr. Cyford chained them in place. Previous signs on their property had been yanked out and taken away.
"I didn't like doing it, but when [Mr. Cyford] chained the signs, I felt that he was throwing down the gauntlet," said Mr. Kean. "He declared war and we responded."
Not to be outdone, Mr. Cyford then paid $158 for a pair of red-and-white "For Sale" banners that he tied to the chimney and the front roof of his house in the 1300 block of Argonne Drive.
So goes the ongoing battle between the Cyfords, who say the neighborhood they have lived in since 1987 is inhabited by too many "rude, stuck-up snobs" who can't mind their own business, and the Original Northwood Association, which argues that the Cyfords are "refuseniks" who accepted the covenant rules were when they bought their home and don't want to play by the rules now that they are selling.
The couple is asking $159,000 for their large brick house at the corner of Argonne Drive and Loch Raven Boulevard, which has been for sale since May.
They say they are moving because they've had it with the neighborhood after being cited by the covenant committee for a woodpile in their back yard, a mound of mulch in their front yard, the parking of a commercial van in their driveway, and a cracked sidewalk.
After a neighbor stopped by to tell him the woodpile was illegal, Mr. Cyford said he responded with a vulgar, two-word phrase and added, "If you give me a problem about this woodpile, next week there's going to be 20 blue plastic Virgin Marys on the front lawn and you can try to get me to take them down."
Mr. and Mrs. Cyford, who are white, said they feel they have been persecuted over the "For Sale" signs because they are using a black realestate agent from a black-owned firm, Otis Warren & Co. Mr. Cyford said he has received at least one anonymous phone call in which a racial slur was directed at him.
Mr. Kean, who pointed out that Original Northwood is an integrated neighborhood, dismissed the charge of racism as ridiculous.
"Mr. Cyford takes the position that he's being harassed and we're are biased against his Realtor, which is untrue," he said.
Mr. Kean said that when the red and white banners went up on the Cyford home, "several people called up and insisted that I crucify him."
Instead, Mr. Kean said last night that because there is limited money in the neighborhood association's treasury, he had decided not to press charges on the violation.
"We're just disgusted," he said. "If we don't feed it, maybe it will go away."