Junk car proposal is weighed

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

With little more than a month left before they stop considering zoning cases, County Council members will take on an age-old question with as many answers as there were design changes in the Ford Thunderbird.

What defines junk, and more specifically, a junk car?

That charge was given to council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, by county residents who testified last night on new bTC zoning regulations that would prohibit long-term storage of unregistered, wrecked or inoperable vehicles on residential property.

"I don't think that because a car is unregistered, that should deprive a boy and his dad of working on a car," said Mary Edith Flynn of Ellicott City.

Eleven citizens testified last night, and while they were about evenly divided for and against the regulations proposed by Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, all agreed that junk cars could become a problem.

"I personally have the experience of seeing unregistered cars for 10 years in my neighborhood," said Robert Bradford, representing the St. John's Lane Community Association in Ellicott City.

"When you live next door to a property like that, it's virtually impossible to sell," said Realtor Ginger Clark of Ellicott City, unless the homeowner is willing to cut between $25,000 and $50,000 off the price of a house.

Ms. Clark cited the case of one home within sight of a yard with a junk car in it. The house has been on and off the real estate market since 1987, and when she showed it to prospective buyers, they always cited the car -- not the price or condition of the home -- as their reason for not buying it.

David Walter, a West Friendship resident whose hobby is working on cars, said he could work out such disputes with his neighbors in his rural community and asked the board to consider hobbyists in rewriting the regulations.

"I moved there because there were no covenants to deter my hobby," such as those that already prohibit junk vehicles in Columbia, he said.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, raised the possibility of a $1 permit for someone to rebuild a car on their property -- an idea Ms. Flynn said she approved of even at $5.

After the hearing, Mr. Drown said he thought concerns about hobbyists or people fixing up cars could be addressed through language already in his proposal. The proposed regulations would allow owners of vehicles to obtain an exemption from the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Mr. Drown also said that specific reasons for such exemptions could be added to the proposed regulations.

Junk vehicles and unregistered vehicles produce the most complaints to county zoning authorities. One long-standing problem, a car on blocks for nine years, convinced Mr. Drown that the new regulations were needed.

Current regulations allow one unregistered vehicle on lots of less than 3 acres, and two vehicles on larger lots.

The regulations do not specify how the vehicles should be stored or what state of repair they must be in.

As drafted, Mr. Drown's proposal would give property owners six months after the regulation change to clear out their junk vehicles. Farm vehicles and out-of-sight vehicles would be exempt. In its recommendation to the Zoning Board, the county Planning Board asked that simply throwing a tarp or car cover over a vehicle not be allowed as a loophole in the regulations.

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.

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