City gets public comment on code

Misinformation on maintenance proposal deplored

Mayor says misinformation feeds concerns about code


January 04, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

By the final day for public comment on Westminster's proposed property maintenance code yesterday, the city had received more than a dozen letters and phone calls from residents, real estate agents and others stating their support for and criticism of the ordinance.

Many of the concerns were specific: One Westminster resident said the city's inclusion of owner-occupied properties in the code made it "nothing more than an institutionalized homeowners association." Another person said the city needs to create a local appeals board to process complaints.

Some of the concerns, however, were based on second-hand information and seemed to be based on misinformation, city officials said.

"It's ridiculous," said Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, who said he has received calls from people who were worried their house would be torn down as a result of the proposed law because their ceilings were not at least 7 feet high. "Where are they getting this information from?" Yowan wondered. "Nothing is going to happen to old ceilings that aren't high enough. Of course they will be grandfathered in."

The most recent expression of this misinformation appeared in a paid advertisement on Page 2 of the Carroll County Times on Tuesday that urged readers to attend a "Westminster City and County Council meeting" about the ordinance yesterday at City Hall. The ad, which was signed "a concerned property and homeowner," exhorted readers to "Protect your property against Ordinance 622."

Westminster doesn't have a county council. And no meeting had been scheduled.

Yowan said he was puzzled by the ad. "There is a lot of misinformation out there," he said. "Some of it seems deliberate."

City employees fielded a half-dozen inquiries about the mystery meeting yesterday from concerned callers, said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works.

For the past decade, Westminster, like the rest of Carroll, has functioned under the county livability code, which applies only to rental properties and is enforced by a single county housing inspector. About 70 percent of the 400 livability complaints the county receives each year are from Westminster, leaving many city residents complaining about the backlog of reported violations.

Westminster's proposed code differs from the county's code in that it covers all properties, not just rentals. If passed, it would be the first of its kind in the county.

Yesterday, the city also received a petition signed by 200 to 300 people opposing the property maintenance code. "There are no addresses," Beyard said. "It's just names."

Westminster's mayor and council plan to hold a work session this month to discuss the proposed code. Its date likely will be given at the council meeting Monday.

The ordinance is not likely to be voted on before the Common Council meets Jan. 22, Yowan said.

"The bottom line is this ordinance was drafted for a very specific purpose," Yowan said. "There might be half a dozen landlords who have neglected their duties and not kept up their properties and are not following the code. Those are the main people who have anything to fear from this ordinance. No one else should."

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