In a move that could give new meaning to the statement, "We know where you live," Baltimore County is considering passing a law requiring a house number on the rear of most homes.
The proposal, scheduled for a vote at Monday night's County Council meeting, is intended to help county inspectors and emergency workers find houses from the alley side.
But the seemingly innocuous bill has ignited a sharp debate in the council that might kill the idea before a vote. Several members voiced concerns this week over cost to homeowners and what they see as government intrusion.
"It comes close to harassing our citizens," said Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, at a council work session Tuesday. He said the proposal represents "Big Brother government."
But the sponsor -- Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat -- argued that the plan is simple and practical in a county with 1,339 alleys.
"We're not looking for punitive action," he said. The idea is to help county workers. "All you need is a paint brush and a little paint."
It was only a decade ago that the county required homes to have numbers on their fronts.
The ability to identify a home quickly from front or back "may be the difference between life and death," said former Catonsville Councilman Ronald B. Hickernell, sponsor of the March 1987 bill. "It makes good sense."
Riley doesn't see it that way.
"What's next?" he fumed during the work session. "Numbers on the roof for the helicopters?"
Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, found fault with the potential $100 fine for violators and worried about the expense of buying new house numbers. An amendment lowering the potential top fine to $25 might be introduced.
"To make it easier to inspectors, to me, is not a reason," Kamenetz said.
Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said ambulances sometimes use alleys for people in basements or in homes where access is easier from the rear.
County agencies support the bill, as does the Ruppersberger administration.
"It's a benefit to us," said Battalion Chief Mark Hubbard, a Fire Department spokesman.
The Fire Department is responsible for enforcing the law requiring front numbers, and "I know of no case where we ever dropped the hammer and took somebody to court," Hubbard said.
Sgt. Kevin Novak, police spokesman, agrees, as does James H. Thompson, supervisor of code enforcement inspectors.
"It's a pain to go down the alley hoping that Joe Blow's got trash cans with his house number on it," Thompson said.
Murry Bentley, president of Loch Raven Community Council, said he thinks some in his rowhouse area might resist the idea because they know little about it.
"Neighbors would say, 'Why do I need to do this?' " he said. A new law should be accompanied by a thorough educational effort to explain its purpose, he said.
Maggie McGinnis, president of Old Catonsville Neighborhood Association in an area where alleys are rarer, said she can't imagine people would be very upset. If they have an objection, it might be only that "it's one more thing to do."
Pub Date: 1/30/98