One Man's Junk

June 27, 1994

It might as well be part of Americana; a father and son toiling in the yard to restore an old jalopy to running order. Norman Rockwell, no doubt, would have seen it as material for his catalog of captured moments that tug at our heartstrings.

But idealized moments do not a day in reality make. One person's valuable antique is another person's eyesore. That car sitting tireless on cinder blocks with weeds growing through the floorboard may be grandma's old Ford to you, just awaiting -- when you can get to it -- a little tender, loving care. But for most of your neighbors, it's just plain junk.

Into this thicket wades the Howard County Council, acting as the Zoning Board. Officials are considering legislation that would prohibit unregistered or inoperable vehicles from being stored openly on residential property. Such a measure would affect areas of the county beyond Columbia, which has covenants barring junked cars.

The board has yet to decide what exemptions the county will allow. Most problematic would be leaving it to the discretion of inspectors from the Department of Planning and Zoning to DTC decide which vehicles are legitimately under repair or whether the sight of a relic is too offensive.

The safer approach is probably to have no exemptions. Cars left inoperable for more than 120 days would be prohibited; owners would be fined if necessary. That would eliminate any confusion.

A person's right to do whatever he sees fit on his property seems a noble, libertarian concept. It may even have been fine when large stretches of Howard County were rural and neighbors were separated by large buffers of rolling pasture.

But in the state's sixth most populous county, with more than 700 people per square mile, there is a need for neighbors to act neighborly. Unfortunately, some people can't be counted on to do so. An obviously junked car can detract from the quality of life in a neighborhood. One person cannot be given carte blanche to adversely affect others' property values, or more importantly, the aesthetic quality of a community.

It is within the Zoning Board's rights to set limits. The rules should not be ambiguous. Similar controls have been enacted elsewhere. Indeed, junk may be in the eye of the beholder, but the public should not have to behold it.

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