Taking red tape out of property repairs

February 08, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time in more than 20 years, property owners in historic Ellicott City don't have to seek approval from the Historic District Commission to do routine household repairs.

The rule changes that took effect yesterday, the first since the seven-member commission was created in 1973 to regulate exterior building repairs, should be particularly useful for emergency repairs.

"It's streamlining things," said commission Chairman Herbert Johl. "We're making things more efficient."

The changes also could apply to residents in the Elkridge Lawyers Hill neighborhood, which has petitioned the county Zoning Board to become Howard's second historic district.

Under the new regulations, the commission is allowed to approve emergency repairs within 24 hours, overlook routine maintenance, place an 18-month limit on approved alterations or repairs and add commission members from newly created historic districts.

Without the changes, the commission needed two weeks to 30 days for a legal advertisement to be published before it could even hear an emergency repair application. Now, the commission can call a meeting within 24 hours after posting a notice at the property or a location nearby and vote with a quorum of three members.

However, all other repair applications will still be advertised in newspapers before each monthly meeting.

"It'll help in meeting practical situations when people have to do something," said county planner Clive Graham. "It was a general recognition that things needed to be approved."

George "Buzz" Suter, who owns the Judge's Bench, a restaurant in historic Ellicott City, couldn't wait for the new rules.

Two months ago, the restaurant's roof developed a leak after high winds blew off some shingles. Faced with a two-week wait for an emergency commission meeting and the threat of more bad weather, Mr. Suter repaired his roof before the commission granted approval at its next monthly meeting.

"I told them I had an emergency," Mr. Suter said. "I have a business to run. I can't have lots of water leaking on [customers'] heads."

The new regulations also enable property owners to complete routine jobs including repairs to doors, painting, paving, and minor landscaping, as long as the new materials have already been approved by the commission or are identical to the materials under repair.

Not all the changes, however, benefit property owners.

Under the new rules, the commission requires property owners to seek an extension if they have not completed alterations or repairs within 18 months of approval. Commission members hope the new regulation will reduce confusion about the status of long-term projects and speed up repairs.

And, in anticipation of Lawyers Hill becoming a historic district, the commission is requiring property owners in newly created historic neighborhoods to sit on the commission.

"We felt it was important to have at least one member come from a newly created historic district," said William O'Brien, executive secretary to the commission and the county's chief of zoning administration and enforcement.

Under the new regulation, a temporary commission member from a new historic district will join the group within three months of the area's establishment. A permanent appointment must be made within three years.

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