Residents unhappy with neighbor's restoration

March 15, 1995|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Bruno Reich says his decade-long home restoration project using granite stones and marble from an abandoned 19th-century manor is a work of beauty in progress.

But his Wilde Lake village neighbors view Mr. Reich as a dreamer and see his project at Hyla Brook Road and Pasture Gate Lane as a violation of Columbia's architectural guidelines, saying it looks like a cross between a junkyard and a graveyard.

And now neighbors in the Birches community, directly north of the lake, say they have even more reason for concern: Last week, Wilde Lake's Architectural Committee granted permission for Mr. Reich to operate an in-home architecture and contracting business.

That permission came even though the Columbia Association has gone to court to seek contempt charges against Mr. Reich for allegedly failing to comply with a consent order to clean up his property.

About eight residents of the 60-home community near Wilde Lake decried the situation at last week's Columbia Council meeting, saying the case shows that enforcement of Columbia's architectural guidelines isn't working.

"I believe in live-and-let-live within reason, but I think things have gotten out of hand," John Brandenburg told the council.

And Gayle Young said of Mr. Reich's property: "Ten times a day I drive by a property I feel has made a mockery of our system. It really distresses me."

The council directs the Columbia Association, which is charged with enforcing the restrictive property guidelines for which Columbia is widely recognized.

Last April, the association filed a lawsuit against Mr. Reich, saying he violated guidelines by failing to finish construction projects on his property for which he had received approval and for leaving materials strewn around.

The association also asked Howard Circuit Court to require Mr. Reich to remove an unapproved portion of a 3-foot-high stone wall ringing his property and to reconstruct another portion, which neighbors say obstructs vision for motorists.

The association charged Monday that Mr. Reich has failed to comply with a Nov. 10 consent order to complete work.

Neighbors say they have run out of patience after trying unsuccessfully to work with Mr. Reich and to pursue remedies through the proper channels.

But Mr. Reich says he's frustrated that his neighbors have created legal "stumbling blocks" rather than talking to him, resulting in expensive litigation.

"All I'm trying to do is finish my work. If I finish, everyone will be happy," said Mr. Reich, 36, an architect and president of Reich Construction Inc.

"Stone work doesn't happen overnight," he said. "My neighbors want everything done immediately. They'd be happy if I covered the house with vinyl siding and called it a day."

The project, he said, doesn't fit within the time frame of several months usually allotted for home renovations in Columbia. "It's been a 10-year project for me," he said.

Mr. Reich says his house is one of three adjacent historic stone buildings along Hyla Brook Road that were built during the 1700s as part of a manor. He says his stone house, which was expanded with a stucco-walled addition in the 1950s, was once a blacksmith's quarters.

When an old Howard County manor called Moundland in the southern part of the county was torn down in 1992, Mr. Reich bought the stones and had them deposited on his property. He has started refacing his home, but ran into delays seeking a county building permit.

He also has used the stones to build the wall and flower beds, but many remain stored in the open on his property.

His neighbors aren't convinced the job ever will be done.

"My main concern is it's a junkyard and has been for ages," said Janet Blumenthal, a Hyla Brook Road resident. "It hasn't been cleaned up despite the lawsuit."

She said the Wilde Lake Architectural Committee added insult to injury by granting Mr. Reich approval for the in-home business.

But Wilde Lake's covenant adviser, Fran Linfield, said the approval comes with conditions, including prohibitions on the storage of business-related materials inside or outside the home, limiting the business to one vehicle and restricting business-related visits.

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