Stonewalling Columbia's Covenants

March 20, 1995

The Birches in Columbia is one of Howard County's more beautiful communities. With stately traditional and contemporary homes ringing Wilde Lake, it remains one of the planned city's original Gold Coasts. Among its attributes are three stone buildings built in the 1700s as part of a manor. Unfortunately, encircling one of those structures is an eyesore for an otherwise lovely community.

Bruno Reich, who owns one of the 18th century buildings, has been working for close to a decade to construct a stone fence around his property and a facade for his house. The work is incomplete, with many of the large stones stored in the open.

Neighbors understandably are upset. But unlike other fence fights in Columbia, neighbors aren't demanding that he take it down. They simply want him to finish the work.

Normally, architectural guidelines allow only several months to complete such a project. Recently, Mr. Reich was found in violation of a Nov. 10 consent order to wrap it up.

Were Mr. Reich's lack of progress not bad enough, the salt in the wound for neighbors came recently when village officials granted him permission to operate an architectural and contracting firm out of his home. The community is upset that anyone who would so flagrantly violate the community covenants should be rewarded with a favorable ruling from the architectural committee.

Mr. Reich has shown a lack of good faith, even to the point of forcing officials to pursue expensive litigation against him. There is no reason to believe that he will be any more conscientious in meeting the conditions for operating his business.

The situation in the Birches points up another weakness in the enforcement of Columbia's covenants. Only recently has the Columbia Association acted to bring covenant violators to court, the last option available in these disputes.

Mr. Reich's request for permission to run a home business should have at least been delayed in light of his violation of the order to finish the work on his property.

Unintentionally or not, he is being allowed to thumb his nose at the regulations and his neighbors. Covenants are legally binding restrictions that exist to protect the entire community. Without enforcement, they are meaningless.

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