Trees are gone but feud lives on Judge declines to revise court order limiting vegetation in perpetuity

December 03, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Mary L. Bowman's 200 trees may be dead and gone from her Green Spring Valley back yard, but the nasty neighborhood dispute that forced her to cut them was alive yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Bowman and her lawyer asked Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr. to modify his order restricting future growth in a 60-foot-wide area where Brennan in June ordered trees to be razed to preserve a view for neighbors Onkar and Shakuntala Singh.

But Brennan was not swayed by an argument from Bowman's lawyer, Raymond D. Burke, who said the judge's order -- which requires the land be kept mowed of natural seedlings and bars any plantings other than grass or flowers -- could prevent his client from selling her luxury home in the 54-home development in Stevenson.

Burke argued that the judge unnecessarily placed a perpetual restriction on the property that could outlast the community's covenants and put requirements on the Bowman property that "no one else has in this community."

Brennan refused to alter his ruling.

"Yes, it is in perpetuity. That's too bad," said Brennan, referring to the order, which requires all future owners of the land to keep it clear of any natural tree growth.

'Red flag' to buyers

Real estate lawyer Carroll Klingelhofer testified for Bowman that the judge's order is in conflict with the community's covenant requiring that natural growth "shall not be destroyed." Klingelhofer also said the order will make it difficult for Bowman to sell the property.

"Clearly it's a red flag to a title insurer and to the buyer," he said, adding that a buyer probably would be unable to get title insurance for a mortgage.

Brennan's order to cut down the trees came after a jury's 1995 decision that the trees violated a covenant restriction prohibiting a hedge in the 60-foot buffer along a property line.

But the order went further than the covenants in restricting Bowman from future uses of the land.

At yesterday's hearing, Brennan also criticized the development's community association board of directors, which oversees enforcement of the covenant.

"That committee was about as ineffectual as Mickey Mouse," said the judge.

After yesterday's hearing, Jim Astrachan, a community board member, defended the group's attempt to enforce the covenant, noting that the board is a volunteer group of residents. He said the board went back to the "drafter of the covenants. He provided an affidavit that said it was never his intention to make the definition of a hedge a planting of trees."

Feud reignited

Yesterday's hearing also reignited the feud between Bowman and the Singhs, as the Singhs and their lawyer, Robert E. Cahill Jr., claimed the grass has not been mowed often enough. They offered photographs to the judge showing new shoots coming from tree stumps that were cut in June.

Mrs. Singh accused Bowman and her husband, Donald Bowman, of planting eight small trees within the no-tree zone after the 200 trees were cut.

Mr. Bowman took the witness stand and said the newly planted trees are across his property line and belong to another neighbor.

"I don't know who planted them but they're not on my property," he testified.

Cahill, in asking the judge not to modify his order, said, "The Bowmans will not accept the fact that they lost this case."

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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