John Miller was grateful when Jim Rogers let him live in a trailer on his Davidsonville farm.
Miller, 53, couldn't do much work. He had lost an eye and part of a hand to an artillery shell in Korea in 1958. Over the years, degenerative arthritis had crippled his hands andback. But he could help Rogers care for his horses, and that was enough.
"We couldn't afford a place to live," said Betty Miller, John's wife. "Then we heard about Jim, came to see him, and we moved in the next day."
That was three years ago. The Millers, and their 15-year-old daughter, Carol, may soon be out on the street. The County Boardof Appeals ruled last week that Rogers' mobile home was illegal under county zoning regulations.
Miller took the news stoically at first. "It's just another day," he said. Then turning away, he added, "To throw a man out of everything he's got on a tiny technicality, that's ludicrous."
In January, Rogers went to the county to ask that the mobile home be recognized as a legal dwelling even though it didn't meet the letter of the law. Rogers needed approval so that he couldreplace the mobile home's septic tank, which was failing.
The oldtank was on his neighbor's property, which had once been part of a single parcel with Rogers' land.
To get legal status for the mobilehome, Rogers had to prove to the Office of Planning and Zoning that the trailer had been in use on the property since 1966.
He and hisson, Jay, spent weeks interviewing people who remembered the property from the 1960s and 1970s. They obtained copies of aerial photos from the Air Force and a West Virginia agricultural company showing the property had at least one trailer since 1963.
Based on the evidence, Suzanne Schappert, a county zoning analyst, agreed with Rogers in late January.
Noel and Karen Gardiner, on whose property the septic tank is located, objected to Schappert's decision, saying the trailer wasn't occupied for at least 12 months in the late 1970s.
In addition, the trailer wasn't on a legal lot, as Schappert had assumed. That meant Rogers had to prove the trailer had been on the property since 1952. The case went to the Board of Appeals, which conducted a hearing in June.
The Rogers and Gardiner properties were one parcelwhen Gardiner's father, Francis, purchased the land in 1973. Gardiner divided the property between his two sons, Noel and Francis Jr., in1976. Francis Jr. sold his half of the property to the Cox family in1983. Jim Rogers purchased the property from the Cox family three years ago.
At the Board of Appeals hearing, Francis Jr. testified the trailer was vacant between 1978 and 1981, when he owned the land. Rogers had no response.
In its decision last week, the board wrote:"Although the board's sympathy is with (Rogers and Miller), it is simply unable to grant the legal non-conforming use because of the testimony of Francis Gardiner."
County officials told Rogers that Miller must move out of the trailer within three months. Rogers hasn't decided whether he will appeal the decision to Circuit Court.
Rogersand Miller say they aren't sure why the Gardiners wanted Miller out."We've never had words with them," Betty said. "I don't understand what's wrong."
Noel Gardiner had no comment on the case. However, his lawyer, Ronald Dawson of Annapolis, said the Gardiners opposed thetrailer because of the septic tank.
"The septic tank is failing, and there's raw sewage bubbling up onto the Gardiner's property," Dawson said. "That's one of the principle reasons, the health issue."
Another lawyer for the Gardiners, Lisa Dixon of Annapolis, wrote Rogers in October that the septic tank was overflowing and recommended that he stop using it within 10 days. Rogers responded five days later, saying he was doing everything he could to replace the tank.
Miller said he offered to pump the old tank in the meantime, but the Gardiners refused because they didn't want someone digging on the property.
Rogers applied to the county for a new septic tank and had a percolation test done. Spencer Franklin, deputy director of the countyHealth Department, said county inspectors visited the site several times, beginning in January.
Rogers said the septic tank didn't begin to fail until a bulldozer on Gardiner's property ran over it and ruptured it last year.
"It didn't run out of the tank until after they ran over it," Rogers said. "I've been more than diligent and sincere in trying to do the right thing. They didn't want a new septic tank. They just wanted him out of there."
Dixon said the Gardiners weren't thinking about a new septic tank but were dealing with the immediate issue of whether the trailer was a legal use. "They had to do battle based on the request," she said.