Baltimore County councilman's proposal would tighten regulation of home offices

Dispute in West Towson prompts return to issue

July 12, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Responding to a controversy in West Towson, a Baltimore County councilman plans to tighten requirements for setting up offices in homes, resurrecting an issue that has gone before the council in years past.

Councilman Wayne M. Skinner introduced legislation last week that would require applicants for a home office special exception -- required when an outside employee works in the home -- to live in the home when they apply.

Skinner introduced the legislation because of a dispute that began last fall when an Owings Mills lawyer won permission to add a law office to his vacant house in West Towson.

Abraham P. Korotki has upset neighbors in the residential community on the edge of Towson's business district, because he has refused to disclose who will lease or buy the property.

"He has no intention of using the property himself; he's said that much," said Richard Parsons, who lives near the house and is a member of West Towson Neighborhood Association.

Korotki declined to comment. But his attorney said that Skinner's measure would circumvent the reviews and public hearings normally required by the planning board for such zoning changes.

Howard L. Alderman Jr., the lawyer, also said the legislation would hurt people who try to set up home offices.

"If I hire a contractor and I'm building a house, why shouldn't I be able to apply and put an office in the house?" Alderman asked.

Skinner said that kind of scenario doesn't happen very often.

"Most people when they build a home are building it for a home," he said.

The County Council enacted a law about two years ago that allows someone to have an in-home office without a county permit. The law was in response to the increasing numbers of people working at home with computers, fax machines and other office equipment.

But county codes require approval from the zoning commissioner if outside employees work in the office.

Skinner said his bill, scheduled for council discussion at a July 27 work session and a council vote Aug. 2, would not affect Korotki's plans for an office in his two-story frame house in the 500 block of Allegheny Ave.

"There's nothing I can do to prevent this case. But the bill would prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future," Skinner said.

But West Towson Neighborhood Association has appealed Korotki's case to the county Board of Appeals. The board has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 17.

Neighbors say that Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt should have denied Korotki's request because Korotki failed to say who would be using the house.

"How can you measure the impact on the community when the user isn't identified?" said Francis X. Borgerding, Jr. the association's attorney.

Borgerding said that not knowing who would use the office makes it difficult to determine how many people will visit each day, the hours of operation, the number of clients and the amount of traffic it will generate.

But Alderman said the identity of the occupant isn't important. Whoever uses the office will be restricted by county codes to using only 25 percent of a house as an office, Alderman said.

In his ruling, Schmidt also restricted Korotki to having only one lawyer and one nonprofessional employee work in the office.

"The restrictions would be the same for anyone who goes in there," Alderman said.

Pub Date: 7/12/99

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