Old house raises issue of cronyism

September 25, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

You can't miss the tiny white stucco house on Marley Neck Road. The neighbors wish it weren't so.

Vacant and boarded up for about six years, teen-agers use it as a clubhouse where they drink alcohol, smoke pot and occasionally fight. The house has caught on fire at least four times, most recently Monday.

The neighbors say the grass gets so high, the weeds so thick and the trees so wild that they've had to do the gardening themselves or pay someone else to do it.

The residents in this neighborhood just off Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard near Marley Middle School say they are sick of the house and its owner, Ben Poe. And they think that his political connections keep him out of trouble with county officials.

"The man is costing me money and time. Nice green things I don't mind looking at, but this?" complained Harolyn Hamilton, who said she has spent $250 to have branches that droop into her yard pruned.

Mrs. Hamilton, who moved next door six years ago, said she has never met Mr. Poe. "I don't know the man and I don't want to know the man. I just want him to take care of his property."

Neighbors said Mr. Poe made promises six years ago that he has never kept.

"Poe and a Realtor told me they would renovate the house," said Beverly Bartlett, who moved into the house next door in 1988, a dwelling Mr. Poe built.

Mr. Poe insisted he will not abandon the house.

"It's an investment property and I intend to renovate it sometime," said Mr. Poe, blaming the poor economy for the delay.

Mr. Poe said he will put up an 8-foot-high fence to try to keep people off the property and from using the yard as a shortcut.

But that is not enough to satisfy the neighbors.

The Bartletts and the Hamiltons say they fear the dry grass and untended tree limbs in the yard between them might catch fire and spread to their homes.

The residents blame the friendship between Mr. Poe and County Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, the Republican who represents the area, for preventing county action.

"We are friends, sure we are," Mr. Poe said. "I'm a supporter of his."

Mr. Poe said he has been putting up signs to help Mr. Holland's re-election bid. A year ago, he bought two tickets for about $200 for one of Mr. Holland's fund-raisers.

But Mr. Poe and Mr. Holland deny their relationship has anything to do with the Marley Neck Road house.

"This is an election year and people are making accusations that are politically motivated themselves," Mr. Holland said.

Mr. Holland has letters showing his response to the residents' concerns. "If I'm guilty of anything, I'm guilty of doing good constituent service," he said.

Except for a few complaints about grass being too high, his office had not received any complaints about the house from 1992 until Tuesday morning, he said.

Mr. Holland said he asked the county health and building inspectors to go to the house and found that the health department had been there Monday and issued a notice to Mr. Poe about boards missing from a basement door and two windows.

Mr. Holland said Mr. Poe was at the house Tuesday when he arrived to take care of the matter.

"When he's requesting for the county department to be there, is that him doing me a favor?," said Mr. Poe, who also put up some new "Keep Out" signs.

Still, the relationship between the two men remained a sore spot with neighbors, who said the quick response to complaints came only after they called a reporter Monday.

"For 2 1/2 years I've been calling the man [Mr. Holland] and talked to him one time and today he shows up at my door," Violet Wimer said Tuesday. "The only reason he was out here today was to benefit his old friend, Mr. Poe."

County officials said that as long as Mr. Poe pays his property taxes, there is nothing they can do about the house.

"The house is structurally sound," said William Bryant, the county building inspector. "There's no reason to tear it down."

The residents believe it will take a tragedy to get something done about the house, which has parts of floors missing, they said.

"Nothing is going to happen until some little child gets hurt," Mrs. Bartlett said.

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