Court gives deadline in zoning case

Sykesville-area man has until July 1 to remove equipment

Neighbors are frustrated

Company owner puts tractors, bulldozers on residential lot

May 02, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials say they have moved a step closer to resolving one of the longest-standing zoning violations in the county, obtaining a court order giving a Sykesville-area man until July 1 to remove construction equipment from his residential property or face daily fines.

That doesn't please Ann Marie Richinelli, who lives near the property on Howard Lodge Drive and is fed up.

"They just keep postponing it," she said. "It's time to take some action."

The dispute started in January 1991 when neighbors noticed commercial trucks in their streets. When zoning officials inspected Mark A. Tucker's property, they found he was running MATCO Masonry Contractors Inc. from his home, where he had lived for six years.

They saw several tractors, bulldozers, building materials and a taller-than-permitted garage on the 1.5-acre property, said William F. O'Brien, a planning and zoning division chief.

"There are trucks driving by kids playing in the neighborhood," Richinelli said, indicating nothing has changed.

Richard B. Talkin, Tucker's lawyer, refused to comment about the case. Tucker could not be reached.

Since 1991, the case has gone through every channel in the Planning and Zoning Department's process.

When Richinelli asked the agency at the end of 1997 for a case history, officials responded with a list of 24 actions taken since 1991. Since then, there have been several more.

"Mr. Tucker has continued to willfully violate the zoning regulations and evade attempts to serve the required court documents by both the sheriff's office and a private process server hired by the county," Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, said in a letter to Richinelli last year.

Department records show the agency more than once initiated proceedings to obtain an injunction against Tucker after administrative efforts were exhausted. Each time, the effort fizzled. Once, the County Council took up legislation that could have affected the Tucker case, halting action against him.

Each step in the process can be time-consuming, and the case has stretched from 1991 to Monday, when Howard County District Judge Louis A. Becker acted.

Tucker has come up with a tactic of his own -- sporadically opening and closing his business, making it difficult for officials to know when he is in violation.

"Sometimes when we checked, the trucks were gone. Other times, they weren't," O'Brien said. "It is much more difficult to prosecute a case where a violator starts and stops."

The decision Monday stipulates that Tucker will be fined $50 a day when he is in violation. To comply, he must remove commercial vehicles from the property and build a breezeway connecting his 30-foot garage and home.

The department limits the height of a freestanding building to 25 feet, but main structures can be up to 40 feet high. Connecting the buildings would make the garage part of the main structure, O'Brien said, bringing Tucker into compliance on this issue.

In the past, Tucker said he tried unsuccessfully to open a business in Baltimore, and that he needs the construction company to survive. County officials believe he closed his business in 1996, but he has told them he needs the equipment to build the required breezeway, they say.

Residents say the county is giving Tucker too many extensions, and they don't think the fine will make him comply. They say he should have been found in contempt by the judge -- which the county originally had sought -- instead of being given more time.

"I expected there to be a ruling, not the lawyers to make an agreement," Richinelli said. Tucker "doesn't care. He just won't pay the fine."

Richinelli said she and other neighbors have exhausted every avenue, including writing letters to county representatives and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

O'Brien said every citizen has a right to appeal a case through every channel. He believes the threat of a fine will produce results.

The department is not planning any changes because of this case, officials said, saying the system usually works efficiently.

"I don't think you can make new laws and regulations based on one case," O'Brien said.

Pub Date: 5/02/99

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