Lead dust turns dream of restoring mansion into 4-year nightmare

Taneytown couple seeks to keep mobile home

May 23, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Taneytown couple whose historic mansion became a lead-dust nightmare want a court order allowing them to keep a mobile home on the property while they continue trying to fix the problem.

Trevanion had been vacant for several years, and its price had dropped from almost $1 million to about $350,000, when Jane E. and David Williams Jr. moved in in January 1995.

The couple knew the nearly 200-year-old, 27-room house in the 1800 block of Trevanion Road would need a lot of work, Jane Williams said, but they had no idea of the problems with lead paint they would encounter.

"It's going on four years now," she said. "It started out to be a dream, Trevanion. Now it's a nightmare."

Months after they moved into the home, according to their lawsuit, problems at school prompted blood tests of their two young sons that showed elevated lead levels, which are linked to learning and behavioral problems.

The county required them to put a mobile home on the 8-acre property, and they did so in May 1996, at a cost of $22,000.

A doctor at Kennedy Krieger Institute said in 1996 that the house was "a toxic waste site," and warned the Williamses that their sons might be placed in state foster care if they refused to move them. The boys were hospitalized for 28 days in 1996 to bring down their blood lead levels.

Williams said they moved the boys from the mobile home to a rented house in Taneytown after a portion of the gravel path near the mobile home showed extremely high lead contamination. The children were taken away overnight and placed in foster care on September 8, 1998, Williams said, and she and her husband were told not to bring them back on the property.

That's how they've come to be paying about $3,300 a month for three homes: the mansion, the mobile home and a $600-a-month rented house where they live with 9-year-old David and 7-year-old Jeremiah.

"We have these houses, but basically can't live in anything but the rental," Jane Williams said.

The Williamses have a hardwood-flooring business, which David primarily runs while Jane tries to make the mansion livable, working out of the mobile home until she runs to get her children after school. They can't afford a contractor, she said, with all their money going to pay for three homes.

She's worked on a bedroom, living room and kitchen, but still has re-plastering and flooring to finish, Williams said.

They plan to seal off most of the house.

"The house is wonderful," she said of Trevanion. "Carroll County wants to pride itself on being very big on historical preservation. This is probably the biggest house in the county on the historical registry, and they don't want to do anything to help."

The Williamses received an extension of their temporary use and occupancy permit for the mobile home from the Board of Zoning Appeals until August 1998, according to their lawsuit, and this was extended again by a consent order in November for another 120 days.

Now, with the work far from complete, Williams said the county has ordered the mobile home removed and refused to accept her application for an extension.

The Williamses' attorney, Judith S. Stainbrook, filed a complaint in the Carroll Circuit Court on Tuesday for a court order -- a writ of mandamus -- compelling the county commissioners to process their application for an extension.

Monday, she said, a district judge found the Williamses in contempt but allowed them until Sept. 1 to resolve the problem.

Stainbrook said the county zoning law allows property owners to place one mobile home as a temporary residence for one year in the event of a fire or other disaster, without approval from the zoning board. The board then considers any extension of time beyond one year.

Williams said county officials wouldn't even take her application.

Attorneys for the county did not respond to calls about the Williams' claim.

"The county can take their application [for another extension] and deny it," Stainbrook said, "but I don't think anybody has the power to refuse to take it at all."

"This is a situation where the government has really got them in its jaws," she said, "saying you have to do all these things to your house before you can move in, while the other arm is saying you have to remove the mobile home -- making it difficult to finish the work."

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