Code scofflaws test council's patience Proposal would speed enforcement process

March 18, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Frustrated by the months it can take to bring neighborhood eyesores to court, Baltimore County officials are moving to speed the process with a new administrative hearing process.

A bill introduced last night in the County Council would simplify enforcement of building, zoning, housing and other codes, speeding the process by four to six months and letting the county do repairs or haul away junked cars and charge the property owner.

It can take eight months or longer for an uncorrected code violation to wend its way to a District Court trial, leaving residents frustrated by seeming inaction.

With a majority of at least four councilmen as sponsors of the bill and with support from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a revised process appears on its way to easy approval next month.

"It will give more integrity, more credibility to the system. If there's delays, people lose confidence," Ruppersberger said.

Said Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, the Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who is the lead sponsor: "Right now, there's an intolerable bureaucratic delay."

The new law is intended to deal with the estimated 20 percent of people cited for zoning, building, housing or other code violations who fail to correct them.

The hope is that all but a small hard core of violators can be persuaded -- by fines, warnings or both -- to clean up the problem without waiting months for cases to come before district judges burdened with thousands of criminal and traffic cases.

Under the proposed law, a violator would be given a correction notice describing the violation and how to correct it. If no action is taken, a citation similar to a traffic ticket would be next, offering the chance to clean up and either pay a fine or request a hearing before an administrative hearing officer within 15 days.

The hearing would be scheduled within 30 days of the request. If the property owner loses, does not appeal, and still fails to make corrections, the county could do the work and put a lien on the property for the cost.

Appeals would have to be filed within 15 days of the hearing officer's order, and would go to the county Board of Appeals, which requires a $150 filing fee, plus the amount of the fine in escrow.

A board hearing would come within 60 days and a ruling 15 days after that. Additional appeals would start at Circuit Court and end at the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

The process is the brainchild of Arnold Jablon, director of permits and development management and a former county attorney. He said the new hearing process also would give members of the community a forum.

Community leaders such as Frank Segall, president of the Colonial Village Neighborhood Association near Pikesville, welcome such a process.

"People take pride in their homes," Segall explained. "If you drive by and see all the itinerant vendors selling towels, or a vacant house with the grass up to the front door, or paint peeling -- lot of 'For Sale' signs go up."

The current procedures for dealing with such problems "are so slow they don't satisfy anybody. It's very frustrating," he said.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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