Ten years ago, Harry Putnam installed satellite dishes at his Ellicott City home on College Avenue in the town's historic district.
Last week, a district court judge ordered Putnam to remove them within 30 days for failing to obtain approval from the county's Historic District Commission.
The commission says the dishes are not compatible with the "architectural and historical integrity of the community."
But Putnam doesn't understand the commission's delay.
"If they were going to enforce (the law), they should have done it 10 years ago," Putnam said.
The commission has been aware of Putnam's satellite dishes since at least 1984, when it attempted to remove them.
But the department of Licenses and Permits, which oversaw the commission at the time, didn't pursue the matter, commission administrator Alice Ann Wetzel said.
"The persons who ran Licenses and Permits didn't like dealingwith the Historic District Commission" and frequently dismissed issues it raised, said Wetzel, who became commission administrator in October 1988.
Wetzel said the commission decided to look into Putnam's satellite dishes last spring when her office received complaints.
The commission discovered that Putnam had never received permits toinstall them.
"The Historic District Commission requires that allexternal improvements be approved by the commission prior to installation or construction to ensure the architectural and historical integrity of the community," said Wetzel.
The commission didn't take action earlier because the office "operates on a complaint basis."
"We don't go looking for issues," Wetzel said.
"We didn't single Harry Putnam out, as much as he would love to believe that."
Putnam, an Ellicott City resident for 23 years, is baffled by the court's decision and says he wants an opportunity to defend himself in court.
"I like the idea of being in a historic district and appreciate what they're trying to do, but they can't do it by taking my rights away," said Putnam, 54, a sales representative with a hardware supply firm based in Cleveland.
"If I can get my day in court, that's all Iwant."
But over the past year, the county's Historic District Commission gave Putnam several opportunities to defend himself, before Judge James N. Vaughan ruled on April 22 that the dishes must go, saidWetzel.
Putnam says he was unable to attend scheduled court hearings or commission meetings for valid reasons, including work conflicts, medical problems and vacation plans.
He says he will remove the6-foot dish on his deck but not the 10-foot dish on the roof of his kitchen.
Putnam, who is representing himself, plans to appeal Vaughan's decision.
He said he can't afford to hire an attorney, who would charge up to $3,000 -- the cost of the 10-foot dish.
If Putnam fails to comply with Vaughan's order within 30 days, he could be cited for contempt, said F. Todd Taylor Jr., the county attorney who handled the commission's case.
In March 1990, the commission informed Putnam that the dishes had been installed illegally, Wetzel said.
At a meeting last May to discuss the matter, the commission voted to deny Putnam's application for a dish, saying it was "incompatible with the surrounding area," according to court records.
Putnam saidhe couldn't attend the meeting because of a business trip to Cleveland.
When Putnam failed to remove the satellite dishes, the commission filed suit in September 1990.
The trial, originally scheduled for April 8, was rescheduled for April 22 at Putnam's request. He said he was injured in March and ordered by his doctor not to work untilMay 6.
Putnam requested another postponement because he had planned several months earlier to take a vacation on a cruise ship from April 22 to 29. Vaughan denied the request for a second postponement.
The court file includes a note from Putnam's doctor regarding his medical condition and a copy of the confirmation of his trip on Regency Cruises.