Rule change on junk cars proposed

March 23, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

If County Councilman Darrel Drown has his way, living outside of Columbia will no longer entitle a homeowner to keep a junk car in the backyard.

Junkers and other untagged vehicles produce the most complaints to county zoning authorities, and one such complaint persuaded Mr. Drown, R-2nd, to propose a change in the rules.

"Somebody called me up and said, this car's been up here for nine years, it's up on cinder blocks and its windows are broken," Mr. Drown said, declining to identify the complaining property owner. "It can detract from other properties."

When he checked out the complaint, Mr. Drown said, "I found out that this is an occurrence that happens basically throughout the county."

County zoning regulations permit one unregistered vehicle on lots of less than 3 acres, and two such vehicles on larger lots. The regulations don't say how the vehicles should be kept or what state of repair they should or shouldn't be in, said William O'Brien, the county's zoning chief.

"We've run into numerous problems with people taking advantage of the unregistered vehicle regulations," said Mr. O'Brien, estimating that his staff receives about such 40 complaints a year.

As currently drafted, Mr. Drown's proposal would give property owners six months after the regulation change to clear out their junk vehicles. In Columbia, property covenants enforced by village associations generally prohibit the storage of an untagged or inoperable vehicle within sight of any other property. Mr. Drown's amendment to county zoning regulations would have a similar effect.

Like Columbia's village covenants, the regulation change would permit no permanent storage of inoperable, wrecked or dismantled vehicles within sight of another property.

Unlike the covenants, the proposal would provide for temporary storage of unregistered vehicles, such as those being sold or awaiting insurance settlements, for up to 120 days.

That might make the county regulation easier to enforce than Columbia's covenants, said Kathryn Mann, assistant administrator of the Long Reach Community Association.

"Theoretically, with the covenants, we could go to court tomorrow" to get rid of an inoperable or untagged vehicle, she said. But, in practice, the village has to wait longer than 120 days to take action against the rare property owner who refuses to comply after receiving a violation notice.

Paradoxically, the amendment would actually allow property owners to store more untagged or inoperable vehicles -- as long as they can't be seen from other properties.

"If it's stored inside a garage, say, then this legislation would not affect it," Mr. O'Brien said. Currently, zoning regulations limiting the number of untagged vehicles on a property apply to all vehicles, including those stored out of view.

The amendment would not affect properties with zoning exceptions such as those allowing auto repair in residential areas. Those properties generally have individual limitations placed upon them regarding storage of vehicles.

The Planning Board is to consider the amendment at its 9:30 a.m. meeting March 31 in George Howard county office building.

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