County to act on failing septic system

March 18, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

The Harford County Health Department plans to order the owner of an apartment building with a failing septic system to repair the system within 30 days, according to the county's chief health officer.

The property owners "are going to fix that septic system or they are not going to have people living there," said Thomas M. Thomas, head of the Harford County Health Department, as he prepared to meet with staff members about the lapse.

Described as a "very serious health risk" in 1992, the failing system has gone unrepaired since then, despite residents' and neighbors' complaints to the health department. Two complaints filed last August and November have not been investigated, according to health department records. Questions about whether the seven apartments in the three-story building, known as Hillside Apartments, near Aberdeen are legal under zoning laws have gone unanswered since 1992. Four of the apartments are rented.

Mr. Thomas said he does not know why health officials did not enforce a 1992 order requiring Adrienne Fitzpatrick, 35, of Darlington to install a large holding tank or an alternative septic system, such as a sand mound. "I need to find out what happened," Mr. Thomas said. "Normally we have what I feel is very vigorous enforcement when we find a failing system."

Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who bought the 3.6 acre property, on Palomino Ranch Road off Robin Hood Road, in 1990 for $168,000, said she can not afford to install a new septic system as large or elaborate as the county is requiring. She rents only four of the building's seven apartments to avoid overburdening the system, she said.

Resident Renee Stambaugh, 27, is afraid she and her two children will be homeless again if the building is condemned.

"It's Adrienne's place to have [the septic system] emptied, but what took the health department so long to get out here?" she said. Ms. Stambaugh, who pays $300 a month for a two-bedroom basement apartment, said she has noticed no septic problems in the four months she has lived there.

Use of the building for apartments may be illegal. Zoning officials could find no record allowing the building to be used that way.

Health department officials asked for a ruling on the legality of the apartments in 1992, but zoning officials could find no record permitting the use of the building as apartments and did not ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick to provide proof.

Instead, zoning officials waited for the health department to determine whether the septic system was inadequate.

But the health department never contacted zoning officials about the septic system again, said Patricia Barth, supervisor of the zoning enforcement section.

"In a situation like this, we would contact the property owner and say, 'You have seven or eight apartments in this building. Can you give us any records' " that prove the apartments existed before zoning was instituted in 1957? Ms. Barth said.

Some residents say nothing is wrong with the building and are afraid they will be homeless if the apartments are ruled illegal.

"If this place is condemned, I'm out on the street with my children," said

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