Howard Week

July 23, 2000

Columbia Association files suit against owners of six homes

David Swann will need a powerful lawn mower if he decides to cut the knee-high grass and 6-foot-tall weeds around his Columbia home. Until then, he'll need a good lawyer.

Swann, who says he has not cut his lawn in more than a year to protest a long-running home-construction project behind his house, is one of six residents the Columbia Association is suing over alleged covenant violations. Problems at the other five homes aren't as visible to passers-by, but officials say they violate Columbia's strict architectural guidelines. The lawsuits filed in Howard County Circuit Court come at a time when the association is looking for ways to crack down on homeowners whose properties are falling into disrepair.

Panel to review policies for departing officials

Responding to questions about bonuses that Deborah O. McCarty awarded in her last days as Columbia Association president, the Columbia Council has decided not to launch an investigation for now, but will conduct a general review of procedures that should be followed by departing officials.

The council voted July 13, after a closed-door session with a lawyer, for its audit committee to determine which policies and procedures are in place to review the actions of officers who leave.

The council took up the issue at the request of Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who had voiced concern about $8,000 in bonuses that she said Deborah O. McCarty awarded to three employees in her last days as association president. The council has not ruled out investigating whether McCarty followed the policies and procedures.

Pair of zoning positions given support at hearing

Two bills that would create a "zoning counsel" and a hearing officer for the Howard County Board of Appeals drew broad support Monday night at a County Council public hearing in Ellicott City.

Speakers, however, urged the four council members present to strengthen both proposals to give the positions more power than the legislation would provide. The hearing lasted past 11 p.m., causing the departure of several people who had signed up to testify.

One who spoke, Elizabeth Riordon of Clarksville, compared her attempt to navigate the county's development process to being "in a Monty Python show." At each stage of the process, Riordon said, she received no help or explanation about how the county operates.

Several speakers told the council they want a hearing examiner with broad powers.

Delayed development urged near middle schools

Home development should be delayed around Howard County's crowded middle schools as it is around elementary schools, a citizens committee studying the issue decided Wednesday night.

Three of the five County Council members who attended the meeting predicted afterward that a law concerning middle schools would be approved. The committee will submit a letter to County Executive James N. Robey next month, said Chairman David Berson.

On Wednesday night, the committee's 14-0 vote, with County Solicitor Barbara Cook abstaining, was the third time the panel had voted on the issue in the past year. The first two times, members rejected the inclusion of middle schools in the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

New weapons charges put Laney bond at $2 million

Two-time Howard County sheriff's candidate Richmond Laney was being held in lieu of $2 million bond after Howard County police brought 59 additional weapons charges against him Thursday.

Laney walked into the Howard County Commissioners Office smiling and laughing last evening before his bail was set. Escorted by police officers from his cell at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup, Laney looked straight ahead and did not answer reporters' questions about the origin of the weapons found last week in his foreclosed home in Ellicott City.

Fifty-seven of the new counts are for possession of a destructive device. The remaining two are for possession with intent to manufacture a destructive device. Until Thursday, Laney, 43, was being held on two charges: one for reckless endangerment and the other for possession of a destructive device. The state charges deal mainly with the more than 80 military explosive devices found in Laney's Fels Lane home, said Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. The state fire marshal's office also is investigating the explosives, which are being stored by the Army at Fort Meade.

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