Stronger rules urged on posting address signs

June 26, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

If last week's County Council meeting had a theme, it might have been growing pains. The council considered several pieces of legislation that have developed out of the needs of a rapidly growing county.

Among them was an administration-sponsored bill to tighten existing regulations on posting property addresses so they will be clearly visible from the nearest roadway.

Emergency operations personnel say the bill could save lives in rural areas.

"We're losing precious time going to the wrong driveway or going door-to-door looking for the right house, especially if someone is in cardiac arrest," said Ben Kurtz, chief of the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company.

County fire, police and ambulance personnel say it has become increasingly difficult to locate the sources of emergency calls, particularly where houses sit far from the road or where several houses share a common driveway or country lane.

"I can take you to several places north of Forest Hill where you know you're at the right driveway, but when you get back there, the farm's been subdivided and you don't know which house to go to," said Mr. Kurtz, who also is vice president of the Harford County Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Association.

He said it's not uncommon for a business in an agricultural district to be located in a wing of a home or an outbuilding on a farm, neither of which looks particularly commercial from the outside.

"It can be a real nightmare," he said.

The bill would require property owners to post on their homes house numbers that are at least 3 inches high, in contrasting color and in plain view of the roadway on which the property fronts. If it's a commercial property, the address must be posted on the rear of the building as well.

If the home or business is not clearly visible from the road or is more than 150 feet from the road, a second set of numerals must be posted at the entrance to the property on a contrasting surface at least three feet above the ground.

Jim Terrell, chief of the county's Emergency Operations Center, told the council that it's not uncommon for people to rely on mailboxes to post their addresses, but in rural areas mailboxes can be grouped together across a street or a quarter-mile away )) from the actual properties.

"We probably send out 10 warnings a month," Chief Terrell told the council.

Warnings of inadequate address signs are mailed by EOC and enforced by the sheriff's office, he said. Violators are subject to a $25 fine for the first offense, $50 for a second offense and $100 for a third.

"Having lived in the area a long time, I used to just ask for the name of the owner and I'd know where the property was," said Mr. Kurtz. "That's how we operated for years. But you can't get away with that in this county anymore."

The council also held a public hearing Tuesday on a bill that would affect new home construction. That measure, introduced by Council President Jeffrey Wilson, would limit the cases in which a home could be built with doors leading to a nonexisting deck.

In such cases, the "deck access" is boarded up when the home is finished, with the expectation that the owner will add a deck later on, Mr. Wilson told the council. But too often, he said, the homeowner learns that he must apply for a building permit and a zoning variance, the latter because the property is not large enough to accommodate a deck to his liking under existing zoning laws.

The proposed law would require the homebuilder to construct a deck when the home is built or guarantee that the lot on which the home sits is big enough, without getting a zoning variance, to accommodate a 12-by-12-foot deck. Otherwise, the deck-access doors could not be built.

"This is the most useless piece of legislation I've seen since last Tuesday night," said Frank Hertch, a Bel Air lawyer who has represented local construction firms and is a frequent visitor to council meetings. He accused the council of parenting rather than legislating and said the bill would "probably only apply to a half-dozen people."

"You're wasting government resources trying to be a father to everyone. It just doesn't make sense," he said.

But Mr. Wilson and county zoning officials said it's becoming increasingly common for new homes to back up to environmentally protected areas, and the law would protect homeowners from being surprised by regulations that prevent them from extending their homes very far.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

* Passed a property tax credit worth $500 for owners of environmentally sensitive land who agree to grant an easement to a qualified environmental organization or land trust.

Mr. Wilson called the bill a "small but important step" in maintaining the county's rural character within the "development envelope," that area of the county designated for growth in the master plan.

* Approved a bill to assess residents in the Red Maple Drive, Bush Road and Swan Creek neighborhoods between $170 and $240 a year for septic systems installed there in an experimental project.

The $3.9 million project, partly supported by state and federal grants, was intended to provide affordable sewerage service to areas with a traditionally high rate of septic failures. Installation of the new systems was completed in July 1991.

Last September, the council rejected a bill to impose 25-year assessments after residents complained of malfunctioning equipment and offensive odors related to the project.

Public works officials told the council Tuesday that most of those problems have been solved.

The council amended the legislation to eliminate the Clearview Road neighborhood from the bill because of continuing complaints of odors there.

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