One man's treasure is eyesore to others Proposal would limit car collection in yard

November 02, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The autumn view along bucolic Troyer Road in Northern Baltimore County is a mix of grazing horses, golden leaves, and, in one pasture, row after row of chrome and tail fins.

The collection of more than 70 vehicles, mostly 1950s and early 1960s vintage, arrived with Michael and Barbara Annen in spring 1993. Their neighbors haven't been the same since, complaining that the cars and a few trucks have ruined the beautiful vistas in White Hall.

Now, sparked by such complaints, county officials are to vote today on a proposal that could make Mr. Annen's collection of antique vehicles illegal -- a move Mr. Annen considers government harassment.

"I'm not breaking any law," says Mr. Annen, a bearded, 37-year-old auto-body specialist. He notes that he has licensed every vehicle stored outdoors, and that all are in running condition. Several have even appeared in movies such as "Hairspray," "Tin Men" and "Avalon," which were filmed in the Baltimore area.

From more than 100 vehicles last summer, the collection kept on his property has shrunk to 74 licensed "historic" vehicles on the grass, and another 15 in an old dairy barn. Mr. Annen says he owns dozens of others stored in other locations. State records show 130 vehicles titled in his name.

That's far too many for neighbor Sandy Kelly.

Mrs. Kelly, who once lived in the 1892 home that the Annens occupy, subdivided her land in 1982. She kept 10 acres and built a wood and stone rancher on a knoll.

Her rear deck faces a horse pasture; the front offers a pond and a gorgeous vista of Harford County. The side view, however, features the gull-like fins of a rusting brown '59 Chevy, a Studebaker and several other sets of aging taillights lined up against a fence.

"My daughter had her wedding here in October," she says, explaining that she planned the event expecting the cars would be gone by then. "How would you feel? It's humiliating, awful, very depressing."

Carl and Audrey Hoot also are distressed. They retired and moved in late 1992 to a house next to the one the Annens occupied six months later.

The day the Annens moved in, caravans of old cars followed the family's household belongings through a shared driveway. Mr. Annen later offered to build a high fence, but Mrs. Hoot rejected that idea. "I don't want to look at a fence," she says, from her property, adorned with outdoor plantings, flags and decorations.

The Hoots live less than 20 feet away, but no longer speak to the Annens, Mrs. Hoot said, adding, "If [the cars] had been here, we'd have never spent the money on the house to fix it up."

Storing unlicensed, junked vehicles is a violation of county zoning laws. But Mr. Annen's cars and trucks all are licensed with historic plates, and most are in good shape.

That's why the county planning board is considering a proposal to limit the number of vehicles that can be legally stored outdoors in lightly populated areas. The proposal would allow two vehicles outdoors for the first bedroom of a house, and one more for each additional bedroom. A four-bedroom house, for example, would qualify for five vehicles.

If approved by the board, the proposal will go to the County Council, where Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Democrat who represents the White Hall area, is ready to push for it to become law.

That doesn't seem to faze Mr. Annen. "I'll park them on the street then," he says.

He started his collection when he was 17. He has his favorites: the big-finned 1959 and 1960 Cadillacs, and 1955 Chevys. The oldest car in his collection is a 1921 Ford Model T; the newest is an '85 Volkswagen, which he drives regularly.

Mr. Annen moved to his nearly 2-acre property on Troyer Road -- where he lives with his wife and two young sons -- partly to escape complaints about his collection at his previous home, on Harford Road in Glenarm.

John Annen says his younger brother, Michael, has talents in art and music, but is a genius with old cars, which he has been passionately interested in since childhood. The cars are a collection and are not meant to be sold or dismantled for parts, he added.

In July, Michael Annen was convicted in Baltimore County District Court of operating a junkyard and a dump, and was fined $500. He calls the charges "harassment" by neighbors and the county. And he's appealing the convictions, which were based on evidence that 24 of his vehicles had flat tires, and that building materials and an auto chassis were on his property.

Michael Annen says he has a right to do what he wants with his land. The issue, he says, is one of his personal freedom.

"I pay taxes," he said. The cars "have to be tagged and run. That's what I did. They're an investment for the future."

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