Faster zoning probes sought

Officials assign more staff to investigate violation complaints

Permits dept. tapped

Personnel loss led to backlog of cases

September 24, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Scofflaws beware: Laws against abandoned vehicles, repair shops in residential neighborhoods and lighted signs will be enforced within 10 days - as opposed to two months - county officials promise.

In an attempt to catch up with a backlog of complaints, the county commissioners have shifted responsibility for zoning enforcement to the Department of Permits, Inspections and Review.

Under the new system, as many as six inspectors will be looking into reported zoning violations, a job that used to be done by one person.

Because of inadequate staffing, it typically took up to 60 days or more for the county to investigate a possible violation if the problem was not a threat to health or safety, officials said.

"We believe this is going to speed things up quite a bit, especially during peak times," said Robert A. "Max" Bair, executive assistant to the commissioners, who has been acting zoning administrator since Jan. 18.

Carroll County has 306 open investigations of reported violations ranging from lighted signs in front of businesses to untagged, broken-down vehicles in residential areas. Of that number, 201 are complaints the county has not investigated in more than a year, county officials said.

Such waits have been the norm in Carroll County for several years.

Seven years ago, when the county was in the middle of budget cutbacks, the zoning department began losing personnel. It once had a zoning administrator, a chief zoning enforcement officer, two zoning inspectors, a zoning technician and a secretary.

Today, the office has one employee - Bair - and shares a secretary with two other departments.

The county's only zoning inspector, Mary Lippy, resigned two weeks ago, leaving Bair to respond to all citizen complaints. As a result, the state's second-fastest-growing county has the smallest zoning department in the metropolitan area.

"Our plan is to act on new complaints within 10 days and to investigate the outstanding ones as quickly as possible," said Ralph Green, director of the Department of Permits, Inspections and Review.

This is not the first time zoning enforcement duties have been carried out by the inspections department. In the early 1990s, all inspection functions were housed within the agency.

Under the new system, Bair will work closely with the inspections department. However, his main responsibility as acting zoning administrator will be to interpret the zoning ordinance and work with the commissioners when they want to make changes to the law. Bair also will conduct monthly hearings on zoning variances, a function now performed by Karl V. Reichlin, chairman of the county Board of Zoning Appeals.

If a citizen wishes to file a complaint regarding an alleged zoning violation, he or she should call Gayle Fritz in the inspections department at 410-386-2248.

After the complaint is filed, an inspector will visit the site within 10 days, according to Green. If there is a zoning violation, Green said, the property owner will be given a week to rectify it. At the end of the week, inspectors will return to the site.

At that point, if the zoning violation still exists and a plan to remedy it has not been agreed upon, a citation will be issued and the property owner will have 30 days to comply. Failure to do so could result in legal action by the county.

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