Transfer station built without approval Permission sought afterward, county says

July 28, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

In eastern Howard County, there's a building where county officials say there shouldn't be one.

A Baltimore recycling company built a transfer station at the end of a secluded road in Elkridge without proper approval. According to county officials, the company was caught when it tried to get permission once construction was finished.

But it appears the county can do little about it now.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said he is livid with Walter H. Kennell, president of Soilsafe and primary backer of the building that would handle much of the county's recycled material.

"[He was] coming in here every day and looking me in the eye and saying that he's doing everything he can to comply with the regulations," Rutter said. " There's no excuse for him to build it without a permit. It's not fair to everybody else who follows the rules."

Kennell did not return repeated requests for an interview.

David M. Hammerman, director of the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits, said his office cannot assess a $50-a-day civil citation to Kennell or Partners Quality Recycling Services, the conglomerate that owns the center, for not having a building permit because the company hasn't even gone far enough in the approval process to apply for a building permit.

To do that, the company needs a site development plan (SDP) backed by the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Approval for that plan has been withheld pending a Board of Appeals decision next month. Until then, officials are powerless to do anything, including ordering the company to raze the structure, Hammerman said.

The recycling company "would be caught in a Catch-22," Hammerman said. "By no means are we forgiving someone for blatantly breaking the rules. But as long as there are no conditions that present an imminent danger or a threat to the community, we're in a holding pattern."

Kevin Doyle, vice president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, called that reasoning "crazy."

"Seems like legal double talk to me," he said. "The fact that they built something that could have a severe impact on the community without an SDP, I would think that it's subject to a fine."

Partners Quality Recycling Services had intended to open the 11,250-square-foot warehouse on 12.5 acres at the end of Kit Kat Road this month in preparation for the start of its five-year, $1.59 million contract with the county to collect aluminum cans, newspapers and glass bottles.

The company is operating out of an interim location in Route 100 Industrial Park in Elkridge, said John O'Hara, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services for the Department of Public Works.

Rutter said planners from his office began working with Kennell and his staff last month to hash out obstacles ranging from plumbing to the location of an access driveway. When a planner drove to the site this month to review the location for a storm water management system, he found the completed building, Rutter said.

"He thought he was in the wrong place because he saw a building where there wasn't supposed to be one," Rutter said of his planner. "It was only by accident that we found out."

Rutter swiftly organized a meeting of his staff, and in a July 9 letter, Cindy Hamilton, chief of the agency's Division of Land Development, informed Kennell that the site development plan had been denied because construction began before any approval, and the location of the building violated the minimum setback from a public right of way.

It is not as if approval of the building would have been a cut-and-dried matter. Nearby residents and merchants said they are concerned about the truck traffic expected from the warehouse.

"It's going to be bad, a lot of dust and noise," said Ann Johnson, who has lived on Kit Kat Road for 38 years and whose son, Fred, installed garage doors for the center. "If I had kids growing up here, I would be worried to death."

Dan Selke, who owns Hubcap City at Kit Kat Road and U.S. 1, said he worries that a hill on U.S. 1 before the intersection will prevent commuters from seeing truck drivers trying to turn onto U.S. 1.

"It's a blind spot," Selke said. "People are coming way too fast, and even if you grade it down some and you've got an 18-wheeler coming up that hill, you still really can't see anything."

The State Highway Administration has been reviewing, among other plans to improve a mile-stretch of U.S. 1 at that intersection, the installation of a jersey wall in the median. But a spokesman said the presence of the new recycling warehouse and the truck traffic it likely would bring rule out that alternative.

For now, officials and residents will have to wait until the Planning Board meets Aug. 12 to review a variance request for the setback. The Board of Appeals will make a final decision Aug. 20.

Hammerman said Kennell and his company are not walking away unpunished.

"The biggest penalty is the loss of time to occupy that building," he said. "For every day that he's not in that building, he's losing money. If you look at it from that perspective, there's a lot of pain nTC being inflicted, and it's probably justifiable."

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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