Neighborhood Zoning Feud To Be Resolved In Court

Santa Claus Clashes With Two Ministers

April 22, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Neighbors who have dedicated their lives to the philosophy of "loving thy neighbor" are locked in a weird zoning battle that has pitted a man of the cloth against jolly old St. Nick.

The fight centers on whether Appalachian Mountain Ministries, a Christian charity that donates goods to poor people in southwest Virginia, is operating without a permit on residentially zoned Deep Creek Avenue in Arnold.

At odds are a clergyman who says he is doing the work of Jesus Christ and his complaining neighbor, a white-bearded retired man whose main vocation is dressing up as Santa Claus.

A Maryland District Court judge in Glen Burnie will be cast in the role of Solomon when he hears their case today.

There's nothing unusual about neighbors becoming vindictive over zoning complaints.

Neighbors turning each other in is common among the more than 5,000 complaints Anne Arundel zoning officials receive every year about unapproved home renovations, improperly parked cars and inadequate drainage.

What makes this case stand out is that the neighbors identify themselves with icons of Christian compassion.

One is the Rev. Emory Thacker, a 59-year-old former trucker who says he is doing the work of Jesus by running his charity.

Thacker and his wife, the Rev. Connie Thacker, 58, will be in court in today fighting an Anne Arundel County request for an injunction that could force them to stop operating out of their two-story frame home in a residential area.

"I've never gone to court before, but if I have to go to court for Jesus, I certainly will," said Connie Thacker. "The Lord has raised up an attorney for us, and hopefully he will help us out."

Neighbors have complained that the Thackers use an unsightly truck, store donated goods in a shed too close to a property line, and leave used appliances and clothes scattered around their yard. The Thackers say they've done nothing wrong.

The loudest protests have come from Frank Fuller, a 63-year-old white-bearded former real estate investor who lives next door at 1070 Deep Creek Ave.

Fuller, a professionally jolly man who looks like Santa Claus, has devoted his retirement to making presentations to children about St. Nick.

"My neighbors think I'm the Antichrist because of this zoning issue," Fuller said, tugging anxiously on his beard on a recent afternoon. "But I'm not the Antichrist. I work as Santa Claus," he said.

He handed a reporter his business card, which reads "Santa Claus 1070 Deep Creek Ave., Arnold, MD, 21012."

Fuller's wife, Linda, 45, explained that she and her husband called the zoning department to complain about the Thackers because they leave ugly junk piles all over their yard. They also make a racket unloading their truck late at night, Linda Fuller said.

"He's [Emory Thacker] got his big Bible," Linda Fuller said. "But if heaven is where he's going, I don't want to go there. They are so ugly with the way they keep their property, it's hard to believe they are people of the cloth."

County zoning records describe a continuing dispute between the Fullers and Thackers, with the Fullers complaining about the Thackers' yard and the Thackers complaining about a large extension being added to the Fullers' house and decaying boats tied to piers behind their home in Deep Creek.

In one file, Emory Thacker complains vociferously about reports of "stuffed animals, an end table and lamp" being kept in a garage on the Fullers' property -- supposed evidence that the Fullers had someone living in the building without a permit.

The files also indicate that zoning officials are becoming a bit frightened of the unusual characters and their intemperate clash.

On Feb. 28, Fuller -- dressed in full St. Nicholas attire -- marched over to the zoning office and delivered a "Christmas present" of a cooler filled with oysters, according to county records.

County officials, fearing a bomb, called the police.

That incident is one of 134 entries in the soap-opera-like files on the neighborhood dispute.

"There are a lot of entries in these files," said zoning inspector Pamela Jordan. "But fortunately, we no longer have the oysters themselves on file."

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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