Formstone around door, woman, 70, now risks jail

August 15, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

If the Baltimore County sheriff follows his usual procedure, 70-year-old Ann Lopez will go to jail in handcuffs and leg chains Sept. 6.

Her problem: A Formstone frame around her front door.

The frame doesn't conform to the covenants of the Edmondson Heights Civic Association, which call for wooden frames. The association took Mrs. Lopez to court, and a judge told her to replace it. She said she couldn't afford to do so.

Ms. Lopez, who has lived in the 1000 block of Harwall Road for 41 years, said water leaked through the wooden frame around her front door when it rained hard, and four years ago she replaced the wood with Formstone.

Soon after, the association sued, saying the new frame violated its covenant on door frames. In November 1992, Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. ruled in the association's favor, gave Ms. Lopez 30 days to submit a plan and 60 days to tear out the new frame and replace it with a frame approved by the association. Instead, Ms. Lopez submitted a letter to the association saying she couldn't afford to make the change, and in June 1993 Circuit Judge William Hinkel found her in contempt of court for not obeying Judge DeWaters' order.

"You had your day in court in November," Judge Hinkel said then. "The only thing I'm asked to decide is if you are in contempt, and you are. You could have appealed Judge DeWaters' decision, but now it's too late."

"But I haven't done anything wrong," said Ms. Lopez, who represented herself.

Judge Hinkel was not happy with the situation. "Well," he asked the association's attorney, "you want me to put her in jail? I think the insistence on the association's part is inappropriate, but I can understand their action. My sympathy is not with the association."

Judge Hinkel gave Ms. Lopez, who has three sons and works three days a week for the Mass Transit Administration, 60 days to conform and offered to mediate the conflict.

"Judge Hinkel was the only person to show a smidgen of compassion in this whole affair," Ms. Lopez said recently.

Tom Carbo, then association president, said at the time of Judge Hinkel's decision, "We are trying to be reasonable, but we have a responsibility to enforce our covenants and restore appearances." His wife, Jean, is now president of the association.

Ms. Lopez said she had a serious shoulder injury when it was time to mediate and wasn't able to meet with the parties.

On Aug. 5, Circuit Judge John Grayson Turnbull signed an order for her incarceration for six months, plus a $1,500 fine and court costs. He gave her 30 days to comply with the court's decision or go to jail. She gets a day's grace because Sept. 5 is Labor Day.

A spokesman for the sheriff's office said that unless Ms. Lopez surrenders, she could, indeed, be taken to jail in cuffs and leg chains.

Ms. Lopez said she doesn't know what she will do.

"I've always been a stickler for rules and regulations, but I have the right to keep the rain from coming in my house," she said. "I look around the neighborhood and see many violations of the covenants."

Robert Ibex, of Dixie Stone, which installed the 1 1/2 -inch Formstone frame, said, "I've been doing this since 1945 and it's the only practical way to keep water out."

Mr. Ibex said it would be difficult and expensive to remove the Formstone.

"It adheres to the brick, and would have to be sandblasted off. I think Ms. Lopez saw others in the general neighborhood doing it and thought it would be all right for her to do it."

He said he told Ms. Lopez that the Formstone could be covered with a wooden frame, but "that would actually look worse than what is there."

The association also took action against Rosalind Sutton, who lives across the street from Ms. Lopez, about the same time it took Ms. Lopez to court. Mr. Ibex installed Ms. Sutton's Formstone frame, too.

Many other Formstone doorways are in the general neighborhood, but John W. Andrews Jr., the association's attorney, said they're outside the group's jurisdiction.

Susan Miller, attorney for Ms. Sutton, said, "My client drove around looking at other houses in the neighborhood so she would have a doorway that was appropriate. She thought she was doing the right thing, but her attitude now is, she's making the payments on her house, and she'll do what she wants to it."

The Sutton case is pending.

Ms. Miller said Maryland courts have upheld restrictive covenants, but have also ruled that such covenants are unenforceable if there has been a change in the neighborhood. The Edmondson Heights covenants are more than 20 years old.

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