The lemon-yellow "Stop Work!" notice was nailed to a tree at the edge of a construction site near a glittering arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Behind it rose the half-built foundation of a house in a forest clearing ripped by construction workers.
Anne Arundel County issued the warning of environmental law violations not to a developer who ignored the county's building code but to a county inspection supervisor whose job it is to make sure developers follow the rules.
County officials say they have reprimanded inspector Bryan M. Lang and halted construction of his elaborate four-bedroom house with a cupola and wrap-around porch on Colony Road in Pasadena until he obtains a permit.
Some neighbors and environmental activists grumble that Lang's fellow inspectors ignored their co-worker's violations until a neighbor forced the issue by filing a complaint.
Some environmentalists claim that the way the county's land-use office handled its own inspector's violations is symbolic of the county's generally spotty record of enforcing growth-control laws.
Linda Dooley, 56, a retired state motor vehicle worker who filed the complaint, says she's frustrated that the county has allowed overdevelopment to ruin a beautiful area and muddy nearby Rock Creek.
"After all the money the county has spent on environmental studies, I am amazed that it could let this happen," said Dooley. "And I am even more amazed that the person who did it has more knowledge of environmental laws than I do."
John A. Morris, county land-use office spokesman, said Lang's failure to follow the rules "certainly reflected the department in a bad light." But he said the county's response shows that it is serious about enforcing laws designed to protect critical areas beside tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
"When Mr. Lang lost control of the site, the department shut him down," Morris said. "The site will be brought into compliance with the law."
Although the county normally requires builders to obtain permits before they start construction, it has allowed Lang to apply for a grading permit retroactively.
Frank Ward, director of the county's permit application center, said he will evaluate Lang's application for a permit Friday without giving him special treatment because he works in the same department.
In the meantime, the "stop work" order nailed to a tree at 1451 Colony Road on Feb. 8 warns that anyone who continues construction may be fined or imprisoned.
Lang, who earns $46,841 a year as a construction inspection supervisor, blamed the problems on a contractor who mistakenly disturbed more than the 5,000 square feet of earth allowed in an environmentally "critical area" without a permit.
The contractor, whom Lang declined to name, did not intend harm, Lang said. The workers excavated dirt while digging the home's foundation and spread the piles into an improperly large area in an attempt to make the site look good, he said.
Lang said he's irritated that a neighbor would complain about so minor a problem.
"All I'm trying to do is build a home for my family," said Lang. "I'm a little bit surprised by all the attention this has been getting. And I'm upset about it, because we have to live there after all of this is over."
Lang said he does not believe that he failed in his duties. He said his area of responsibility is not home construction but inspecting the water and sewer lines developers build into subdivisions.
Some of Lang's neighbors say they feel no sympathy for him because he now knows the hassle of following the regulations he forces builders to obey.
Others say the fuss is silly because the construction site is at least 100 yards from the water and there are dozens of other houses in the area.
Lang's 5-acre site is in woods across the street from White Rocks Marina, where dozens of sailboats are stored beside Rock Creek, which flows into the Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay.
On a recent afternoon, Ken Smith, who runs a lift at the marina and lives nearby, laughed at Lang's predicament as the rigging of sailboats rang in the stiff breeze.
"They should do it by the book," Smith said of Lang's construction. "They are the book."
Joan Willey, political chairwoman of the local branch of the Sierra Club, said: "I think it is pretty outrageous when somebody who is supposed to be enforcing the law breaks the law."
County records show that Lang applied in September for a permit to build his 2 1/2-story house. The county granted him the building permit Dec. 11. But because the site is within 1,000 feet of an arm of the bay, the county told him that he could not disturb more than 5,000 square feet of earth without a grading permit.
Obtaining a grading permit often adds thousands of dollars in engineering and construction costs. It often requires the builder to dig ditches and mounds to control runoff into nearby waterways.
In his building permit application, Lang estimated that he would clear only 4,826 square feet of land. His numbers didn't add up, however. Anyone who took a calculator to the figures Lang supplied would have found that he would disturb at least 5,226 square feet -- requiring the additional permit.
A county land-use department engineer, George Eberle, knew Lang would exceed the limit slightly, Morris said. But Eberle decided not to demand the additional permit because "he does not treat the threshold as a line in the sand," said Morris.
After the complaint was filed with the county Jan. 19, however, a county inspector found Lang's violation was not slight. He had disturbed more than twice the amount of ground allowed in an environmentally sensitive area.
Pub Date: 3/17/99