Resident settles covenant dispute He must clean algae, get permit for trampoline

July 07, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Columbia resident James M. Stuart has avoided a possible jail stay in a legal battle over his housekeeping, settling his dispute with Columbia Association authorities before it got to a judge.

Stuart faced a contempt of court charge after being sued by the association for allegedly violating strict aesthetic rules, known as covenants. At issue were algae on the side of his house in Owen Brown, a trampoline-turned-planter in his back yard and a 1974 Corvette that CA officials thought was out of commission that he kept in the driveway.

But after a recent meeting with CA's attorney, Shelby Tucker-King, the case was resolved out of court -- in Stuart's house, actually.

Stuart was absolved in the matters of the Corvette -- it was properly licensed -- and the algae, which was cleaned up. But he must apply for permits for the trampoline and a new and potentially troublesome issue: a cherished rock garden.

So ends one of about a dozen annual lawsuits filed against Columbia residents after a 1994 covenant crackdown to ensure upkeep in the aging planned community.

"It's been distracting for us," said Stuart, a 21-year Columbia resident. "So, at the request of my wife, I just settled the thing."

Norma Rose, chair of the Columbia Council, said such agreements are generally how covenant lawsuits are settled. Residents sued by the association often have ignored several warnings or not taken the issue seriously, she said.

"People just don't pay attention, and when they do, things work out," Rose said. "The purpose of the covenants is to maintain the community at a high level."

Most covenant complaints are solved at the village level. But for those that make it to court, the association almost always wins. Court records show its attorneys will use the full authority of the law to pursue such cases.

In April, a local judge issued an arrest warrant for John Ables Jr., a Long Reach resident, after he did not appear for a contempt of court hearing on charges that he had failed to fix a broken fence, neaten his lawn and replace rotting trim on his house.

In Stuart's case, the agreement reached June 29 also orders him to remove a basketball hoop and a storm door from his yard.

For the trampoline and the rock garden, Stuart must apply to the village's architectural committee for approval within 60 days or remove the items. If the committee denies his applications, he must get rid of them.

If he does not fulfill the terms of the order, he could be charged with contempt again.

And he says that could happen.

Stuart says he is willing to comply with the provisions of the settlement, but he draws the line at his rock garden.

He cherishes the hundreds of rocks he has collected from North Carolina to Newfoundland. He keeps them in a 20-foot-long, 1-foot-wide garden at the back of his yard. If the committee doesn't approve it, he plans to fight back.

"I will go back to court on the rock garden. It's part of my family enjoyment," Stuart said. "Nobody sees that stuff except us."

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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