Councilmen want closer monitoring of zoning violations in Balto. County Moxley, Kamenetz say compliance is a problem

March 06, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Despite a new system designed to hear zoning complaints within 45 days, some members of the Baltimore County Council said yesterday that the process needs revision because of chronic compliance problems.

Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, and Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat who represents the Pikesville-Randallstown area, said they plan to meet with Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management, to set up a plan to better monitor violations.

"I am concerned by stories I've heard from people who have [been to the hearings] and also from zoning inspectors," Kamenetz said. "It warrants monitoring to see how we can continue to improve the process."

Kamenetz last year crafted legislation that established a quasi-judicial zoning hearing process, held at the County Office Building and intended to render a ruling 45 days after a violation notice is issued.

But he said yesterday he has received complaints about the 10-month-old process being too lax and about violations being dismissed or allowed additional months to be corrected.

Jablon was out of the state yesterday and unavailable for comment.

But Stanley J. Schapiro, the hearing officer and Jablon's assistant, said yesterday he believes the process is working well. He said the only problem affecting the new process is a repeated inability by inspectors to serve violation notices.

"It would be nice if we could serve the citations like a traffic ticket, but that is not the way the law is written -- we have to go certified mail, personal service or direct mail," Schapiro said.

Asked if he is lenient, he said: "No. I think I'm very fair. I give them a chance to correct the violations. I impose a penalty and say that if they abate within 30 days, I'll reduce or [delete] the penalty. That usually gets results."

One county resident, Deirdre Smith, disagrees.

In January, Smith was shocked when Schapiro canceled a hearing on multiple zoning violations by her neighbors, Rite Aid Corp. Chairman Martin Grass and Helmore Farm owner Dale Lucas.

When Lucas sought a special exception to allow Grass to land his commuter helicopter at Helmore, Schapiro deferred a hearing on the matter until the zoning commissioner could rule on the special exception.

"The nonhearing that happened without us being there is to me indicative that the county's system is at best dysfunctional and at worst corrupt," Smith said.

Mary Pat Fannon, an aide to Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican, said she has monitored many zoning complaints before Schapiro.

"I've heard some complaints that people feel he's not hard enough," Fannon said. "But I've found that I like the way he's handled my cases."

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, agreed, saying: "I hear no complaints. I hear that we've been too aggressive in enforcement."

Moxley, though, said revisions are needed.

"Unfortunately, we must send a message when people break the law," Moxley said. "We should take a hard-nosed approach to it. We have to tighten up the process and put some more teeth into the penalties -- and not give the hearing officer the ability to deviate from the law."

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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