Family finds a backyard marsh Seller deceived us, homeowners say PASADENA

November 20, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Jim and Michele Fontz say they were promised a house with a large yard where their two children could play.

Instead, what they got was a marsh.

Moreover, they recently have learned that their dream house in the 8100 block of Hog Neck Road was built in violation of a state stop-work order.

The Fontzes, who had lived in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, decided last year they wanted better schools and a suburban lifestyle.

Mrs. Fontz said she daydreamed about backyard cookouts, swing sets and outdoor birthday parties for their children, Nicole, 12, and James Jr., 5.

"I wanted the Brady Bunch," she said.

She said she told owner Thomas Raimond that when they paid him $105,000 for the property on Oct. 31, 1991. But Mr. Raimond never told them that a non-tidal wetland -- a spongy, vegetated area in which water gathers -- in the back yard would preclude that.

The state's 1989 non-tidal wetlands law severely restricts activity in those areas. Scientists say wetlands help control flood waters and filter pollutants from storm water runoff before it reaches the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Mrs. Fontz said she and her husband were never told that the state Department of Natural Resources had cited Mr. Raimond and the Calvert Land Co., Mr. Raimond's development company, on March 6, 1991, for violating the Non-Tidal Wetland Act and had ordered him to halt work and repair the damage within 30 days.

State officials were surprised when they learned this fall that the house had been completed, said Dave Pushkar, regional chief of enforcement for the DNR's Water Resources Administration. The stop-work order remains in effect, he said.

DNR inspectors did not force the issue because Mr. Raimond applied for a permit on April 4, 1991, that would retroactively approve construction within the wetland, Mr. Pushkar said. It is DNR policy not to impose repairs until the permit is approved or denied, he said.

A decision on the permit has been delayed because Mr. Raimond's engineers never provided all of the information requested by the state, Mr. Pushkar said.

Mr. Raimond declined to comment when contacted at his Severna Park office, other than to say, "I don't know anything about it, and I refuse to discuss it."

When the Fontzes signed a purchase agreement a month later, the house was incomplete and the yard, front and back, was overgrown. When they settled on Oct. 31, 1991, all work was completed except clearing the back yard, which Mr. Raimond promised to do within 30 days.

Mr. Fontz, a dispatcher for an office supply company, said he and his wife had no idea there was a wetland beneath the dense, impenetrable vegetation. They first noticed water in the back yard when a bulldozer flattened some of the vegetation in September.

"I didn't know what wetlands are," said Mrs. Fontz, a data entry clerk for a medical laboratory.

Mr. Fontz added: "We were used to concrete."

Had they known, the Fontzes say, they would not have purchased the house.

The DNR is investigating to determine if criminal charges should be filed against Mr. Raimond, Mr. Pushkar said. Violating a stop-work order is a misdemeanor, carrying a $10,000 fine.

The state also could levy civil penalties of $10,000 for every day Mr. Raimond is in violation of the stop-work order, Mr. Pushkar said.

"He may not own it now, but he's still the violator," Mr. Pushkar said.

The Fontzes have refused to allow state inspectors on the property because they fear the state will let Mr. Raimond off the hook.

As a result, Mr. Pushkar said, officials cannot evaluate the damage to the wetland to determine what corrections might be needed. He said the state probably will bar any further activity there. "Just let it grow," he said.

Mr. Fontz said he and his wife do not know what to do. The house, which sits within 15 feet of Hog Neck Road, has no front yard to speak of, and most of the back yard is wet.

"We doubled, almost tripled, our house payments for our children, to give them a yard, and they can't use it," Mr. Fontz said.

They have turned to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division for help. An official with the Attorney General's Office said state consumer protection law requires certain disclosures before a sale.

But, she said, the agency would have to review the case closely to decide whether the law applies.

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