The 300-channel umbrella ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

October 02, 1992

Riddle: When is a patio umbrella not an umbrella?

Answer: When it's a satellite dish.

You don't get the joke? Neither did some Crofton residents who were upset that a neighbor put up a satellite dish on his property in spite of a covenant prohibiting it. The resident, Jeff Rimer, a well-known sports announcer on WBAL radio, erected a dish specially designed so it's partly hidden beneath an umbrella.

Hardly a month goes by that you don't see a story about a community up in arms over a resident's placement of a basketball hoop, a dog house or some other seemingly innocuous embellishment. The fights almost always look petty, but they usually come down to this: Most developments are built with rules called covenants and some residents moving into these subdivisions ignore them.

One homeowner invariably rats on another's violation. Neighbors get pitted against neighbors. And the volunteer board charged with enforcing the rules is often reluctant to go to court with its limited bank account.

Mr. Rimer says he too despises the free-standing dishes that many communities, including his, oppose on aesthetic grounds. He spent extra for the "under cover" system, he says, to be reasonable about the matter. Yet that's precisely why covenants have come into vogue: Every homeowner is convinced of his or her own "reasonableness," even if the homeowner's actions have a detrimental impact on neighbors.

Disputes over these covenants, unfortunately, often devolve into personal attacks. The Crofton Orchards board must separate personalities out of the process and let the members vote on whether the new umbrella-like dishes blend with the neighborhood and warrant an exception to the bylaws.

In the big picture, the satellite industry has won some court battles in California and Ohio and wonders whether it can now carve a precedent in Maryland to weaken community controls over satellite dishes. A better tack for the industry would be to continue to develop unobtrusive systems. One Baltimore satellite dish seller predicts that in several years dishes only 4 feet wide will pick up signals.

Until that technology is developed, communities with covenants won't appreciate having satellite dishes rammed down their throats.

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